In the 7 a.m. course registration contest last spring, Lexi Meisse, ’20, won herself just six credits.
She was only able to register for a fraction of the credits required for her computer engineering major because several foundational engineering courses had already reached capacity.
Meisse’s lack of credits stripped her of being a “full-time student” which affected her ability to pay tuition.
“It was recommended to me by the Bursar’s Office to register for random classes to get the number of credits I needed so I could pay my bill,” Meisse said. “Then, later on, I would have to somehow switch everything back to the classes I needed.”
Meisse eventually got into one of the two additional classes she needed during the first week of the fall semester.
“I think just all engineers in general have trouble getting into (general education requirement courses) because of how many of us there are and the lack of spots and classes,” she said. “The university hasn’t fixed anything like that, they just hope that people just drop or move.”
Meisse’s dilemma is not an isolated one. Students run into issues with course registration every semester.
“One challenge is that there are only so many seats in each class,” said Anne-Marie Anderson, an associate professor of finance and the chair of the Educational Policy Committee. “The other challenge is the timing of the courses. You may need to take two courses that are offered at the same time.”
Anderson said upper-level finance courses, for example, are typically taken by juniors and seniors, but seniors could fill all of the seats before juniors even have the chance to register.
Allen Taylor, an associate registrar for technology, said when students are unable to enroll in courses, they are often referred back to the departments offering those courses.
“(The university’s Registrar staff) do the best we can with the limited oversight that we have over the registration process,” Taylor said. “But we have no ability to add students to classes that are over capacity.”
Class sections, times and capacities are determined by the departments that offer the courses.
Taylor said each department sets its course schedule and passes it to the dean of its college. The Registrar then compiles the course offerings and assigns classrooms.
The Registrar also provides each department with information about course spread and ensures they offer diverse courses. Taylor said his office will notify individual departments if it identifies a common class conflict.
“It may not feel like it initially, but many of our departments are quite responsive,” he said. “They do pay attention to course enrollments, course waitlists and course loads.”
Taylor said the Registrar is looking to introduce a new registration system, which might launch in the spring.
The new interface will incorporate a calendar format and have more accessible course descriptions. Students will have the option to see the courses in a list or in a grid format.
Mary Clougherty, ’21, registered for her fall semester courses while she was on campus this summer.
Clougherty, an accounting and business information systems double major, graduated high school with 28 AP credits. She was unable to register for classes she needed because many were already filled by rising sophomores.
To fill her schedule, she initially enrolled in electives and joined the waitlist for four classes. Clougherty was only able to take 12 credits this semester and will take the rest of the courses she initially needed for this semester in spring 2018.
Taylor said the academic departments decide whether or not to use a waitlist for course offerings. If a department chooses to use a waitlist, it can elect to use the automated waitlist system in Banner or keep a paper waitlist.
The automated system functions on a first come, first served basis. When a seat opens up, the first student on the waitlist receives an automated notification that he or she has 24 hours to register for the course. The system moves down the waitlist to fill available seats.
If a department chooses to keep a paper waitlist, it is the responsibility of the department to manage that waitlist independently without any involvement from the Registrar.
Some students attend Lehigh’s summer session to take courses they were unable to secure during the regular academic year or to retake failed courses.
Taylor said departments that offer courses that serve the entire university are more likely to offer summer courses. The mathematics department, for example, not only services math majors but also provides courses for students in fields like engineering and social sciences.
Course registration is no small operation.
Taylor said in addition to academic departments across the university, the entire Registrar staff is involved in the course registration process. When fully staffed, the Registrar has 13 staff members who come in at 7 a.m. instead of 8:15 a.m. on registration days.
The Path to Prominence plan could affect the future of course registration.
“I think the bigger challenge is not the short-term thinking but the long-term thinking,” Anderson said.
She said adding 1,000 students to campus in the midst of major renovations on significant buildings, like Christmas-Saucon Hall and Chandler-Ullmann Hall, could make it even more difficult for students to register for classes.
Anderson said if the departments are not currently using classroom space effectively, then it will be even harder to schedule classes amid the Path to Prominence plan.
“Students should know that we do hear them about some of the registration concerns they have and we have been actively working on a few different things over the past year to attempt to improve the registration experience,” Taylor said. “It just takes a little time to test and validate software to make that experience better.”