Problem Essay Final

Jackson Cabot

Cover letter

When writing this essay, I wrote out a brief outline with the general idea, organization, and introction.  However, this outline was unusually brief, and for the most part this was just typed out from beginning to end.  This was an issue that I struggled recently, and I had probably practiced my rant to myself a few times, so it was easy to write from scratch once I got going on it.  One thing I wish I had done was prepare a better conclusion in my outline before writing because I am still not sure if the conclusion I wrote fits the essay very well.

UC Davis has one of the biggest student enrollment of all the UC System, with more than 25,000 undergraduates.  With so many of us, it can be difficult to fairly and efficiently manage registration for classes.  Many introductory classes have hundreds of students in a single lecture, but even these classes can become severely impacted when they are not managed properly.  Unfortunately, the current system of registration for classes has several key flaws, and it is often unfair for students, especially underclassmen.  The university registrar needs to improve the way it handles class registration.

The first main flaw is the way pass times are handled.  In the current system, students are assigned a pass time based on how many credits they have accumulated.  Students with more credits get earlier pass times, so they register for classes earlier.  This makes sense, since in general, upperclassmen who need classes in order to graduate on time have more credits than underclassmen, they will get priority, ensuring that they get seats in the classes that they need.  Underclassmen, of course, are not pressed to satisfy degree requirements immediately, and can therefore afford to take a class in a later quarter.  The problem with the pass times though, is that they only last four hours.  This ridiculous policy put me in a very unfair position last quarter when I tried to register for BioSci 2B, a very impacted course.  I couldn’t get in pass 1, so I had to wait until pass 2, which was scheduled at 6:00 AM.  Unfortunately I forgot about the time, got up normally two hours later, and went to class as usual.  When I realized I had forgotten, it was already 12:00 and the pass time has passed.  I went to the registrar’s office, and they told me there was nothing they could do (or at least to the extent of their knowledge of the program that handles enrollment) and I would have to wait until open registration.  This basically meant that I had been bumped down to the latest possible pass time.  Because of this, I ended up on the waitlist, and only by sheer luck and pressuring the enrollment staff was I able to get in the class this quarter.  The purpose of pass times is to make sure that students with more credits get priority registration.  If I registered for a class after the four hour window, I would not be “cutting” ahead of any other students since I was in line first.  A person in line who cedes their position to the person behind them is not disadvantaging anyone; in fact, he is only helping the other person. The only possible reason I could think of for this unfair stystem is if the server that handles registration could not accommodate all students at the university making schedule changes.  If this is the case, then the administration must invest in a better server.  It is the registrar’s responsibility to make class registration as fair as it can be, and this system shows that they are not doing their job.

The second flaw in the system is the generation of waitlists.  If you unfortunate enough to have a late pass time for lack of credits, then you might have to a waitlist an impacted class.  The university has limited space, funding (that they put into academics) and faculty, so sometimes classes with high demand will get full.  Currently, when you sign up for a waitlist, you have to do it by section.  Many science classes have lecture classes with hundreds of students, which are divided into smaller lab sections of about 20 students or so.  The labs are held at various times, so some lab sections are compatible with students’ schedules, others are not.  The problem with waitlisting at UC Davis is that every lab section, no matter the time has its own waitlist.  Even labs that take place at the exact same time have different waitlists.  In addition, you can only waitlist one section.  Naturally students will pick a section that suits their schedule, but often many lab sections are compatible.

This system commonly forces students to arbitrarily pick a section that fits their schedule and hope a seat opens.  Consider a situation where there are two lab sections for a single impacted class.  One is at 2 PM, the other at 5 PM.  Two students, one sophomore and one freshman, whose schedules allow them to take either section, need take the class for their majors.  Both lab sections fill up before either of them can register.  The sophomore arbitrarily signs up for the 2 PM lab and the freshman signs up for the 5 PM lab. Who gets in? Fortunately for the freshman, a spot opens up in the 5 PM lab and not the 2PM lab, and he gets the seat, even though the sophomore could take the class.  Since the sophomore was on a different waitlist, he didn’t get in, and it didn’t matter how many credits he had.  The freshman just chose the right lab to register for. In short, it came down to luck.

Registering for classes should not depend on luck.  With so many students vying for classes, it is very difficult to eliminate luck from the equation, but the registrar should do everything it can to minimize the luck factor for the sake of the students.  The best way to solve this problem is to make all sections of a course use a single waitlist.  Students would waitlist by course, not by section, but they would indicate which sections their schedules allow them to take.  When a spot opens up in any section, a program would go down the list and find the first person that can take that section, and then offer the student that seat.  This would make the process less stressful, more reliable, and much fairer, especially for upperclassmen, but it would benefit underclassmen as well.  I know for a fact that other universities have successfully used this kind of process for many years.

A university is a place for education, and it should do everything it can to offer that education to its students fairly.  With then current system, UC Davis is not doing what is best for its students.  We need to pressure the registrar to enact these changes for the betterment of our educational experience by ensuring the process is as fair as possible.

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