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Stu­dents formed long lines winding through the Knorr Center for semester reg­is­tration. | Mossey Library ARchives

Huddled under a blanket, sipping on a cup of coffee, the student sits down just before the light of dawn breaks on reg­is­tration morning. The student stares at the cold light of his laptop screen and silently prays he will get into all the desired courses despite inevitable problems with tech­nology.

This may be the expe­rience of the modern Hillsdale student, but things were not always like this. Before reg­is­tration went digital, a student would have to get dressed and walk up the hill to reg­ister for classes in person.

Since Douglas McArthur, the current reg­istrar, took over in early 2006, the process has changed a lot. At that time, stu­dents filled out cards and brought them to the reg­istrar.

This process — known then as “pre-reg­is­tration” — is equiv­alent to what stu­dents call “reg­is­tration” now. This, McArthur said, was when stu­dents signed up for courses they would take the fol­lowing semester, and it was orga­nized by last name.

When a class filled up, stu­dents waiting in the line would have to adjust their schedules on paper as needed.

“Stu­dents would line up outside the office, and we would have three to four people at a com­puter work station,” McArthur said. “If a class was filled before they got there, stu­dents would have to try for another one.”

“There was a rotation, so someone with a last name starting with ‘Z’ wouldn’t get left to the end every time,” he said.

The process actually referred to as “reg­is­tration” hap­pened in the Knorr Student Center on the Monday and Tuesday before classes started, which is why, to this day, classes always start on a Wednesday, according to Public Service Librarian Linda Moore. This “reg­is­tration” period, McArthur said, func­tioned as a sort of val­i­dation process in which stu­dents would check in with the admin­is­trative depart­ments to take care of fines, financial aid, and housing plans, among other house­keeping things, and also had the option of adding or dropping classes.

“That event required everyone to queue up and go through long lines in the Knorr Center,” McArthur said. “When I was a student in the ’80s, that was the process. It involved course reg­is­tration, and there were rep­re­sen­ta­tives from every aca­demic department. Again, if a class filled, they would have to make changes down the line.”

Moore remembers the long, winding lines of stu­dents waiting to take care of admin­is­trative tasks so they could begin the semester. Going down the line, every department would set up at a table, she said, and stu­dents first had to stop by the business office’s table to clear any out­standing pay­ments. This way was more work for stu­dents than it is now, she said, and when a problem came up, the student would have to phys­i­cally go some­where rather than just email the right person.

“It took all day, standing in line at each department’s table. It was that way for maybe 50 years,” she said. “We used to do it at the Stock­field House. The college used any big, open space for reg­is­tration.”

As a student, Sonja Bindus ’92, head of the early childhood edu­cation program, said reg­is­tration was hectic, partly because every­thing was on paper at the time.

“You would have your card, and you would check in with financial aid and check your balance,” she said. “We started by the Dow Center and went down the stairs into the basement. We would have to go to each department’s table, so we were con­stantly running.”

Despite the madness that was reg­is­tration, Bindus remem­bered it as a time to be with friends.

“It was a big social time, with everybody gath­ering together. We made the most of it,” she said. “Everybody was in the pain of reg­is­tration together.”

The old, physical reg­is­tration process, Moore said, required stu­dents to take action to reg­ister, fos­tering the sense they were taking part in some­thing big.

“In some ways, the old process was a rite of passage. It gave stu­dents some­thing to com­plain about when things went wrong,” she said. “But after you were done, you felt like you had actually accom­plished some­thing.”

Moore said stu­dents going through what they felt was quite an ordeal, in a way, facil­i­tated campus com­munity.

“It was a bonding expe­rience for stu­dents, but they might have wanted to bond in another way,” she said with a laugh.

When reg­is­tration first went online in 2009, according to McArthur, the entire process was shifted dig­i­tally all at once. There was no large line, he recalls, but he said some stu­dents still came in, a bit appre­hensive about the new tech­nology for reg­is­tration.

“A fair number were nervous and thought that if they reg­is­tered in person, it was sure they could get into classes. That lin­gered for a few semesters,” he said.

For faculty advisers, moving to WebAd­visor has been a nice shift, making their lives easier, as well as stu­dents’. Moore said it is much easier now to keep track of what courses a student has to take for the core or for their major. But when the school first began using WebAd­visor, Bindus said there were a few snags.

Faculty members at the time were the only ones able to see class infor­mation.

“Even when WebAd­visor first started, it was kind of like ‘The Hunger Games,’” Bindus said. “Stu­dents couldn’t see class infor­mation, how many people were in a class. If an opening came up, I would give them an add card and say, ‘Run to Central Hall!’”

At the present, if you go behind the scenes in the registrar’s office, there is still a load of prep work to make course reg­is­tration pos­sible.

“With the advent of more online tools, we do more advising now,” he said. “The actual work required starts months before.”

Early in Feb­ruary, the registrar’s office puts out a call to depart­ments for course sub­mis­sions, usually receiving them by the first Friday of March. At that point, McArthur said, the registrar’s office syn­the­sizes the sub­mis­sions into a cohesive schedule. McArthur occa­sionally weighs in on course offerings, but the majority of the time, he said, his office is just looking for bot­tle­necks in the schedule.

“Most pro­fessors have done this long enough that they don’t put courses stu­dents need at the same times,” he said.

But the work doesn’t stop with course sub­mis­sions. McArthur said some of the most com­pli­cated work happens closer to reg­is­tration: The process of setting up the com­puter system that allows stu­dents to reg­ister, he said, is “fairly com­pli­cated.” On the morning of reg­is­tration, McArthur comes into the office early in the morning. He has an Excel spread­sheet with a long checklist of every­thing he needs to have ready for reg­is­tration mornings, and he goes through to make sure the process is ready to run as smoothly as pos­sible.

“If any­thing is wrong with WebAd­visor, I call ITS to see if they can fix it before reg­is­tration opens up,” he said, adding that WebAd­visor was down this past weekend and had to be fixed in time for freshmen reg­is­tration. “I’m here the whole day; I’m here to answer ques­tions.”

Thinking back over the years of reg­is­tra­tions he’s managed, McArthur remem­bered a crisis of errors.

“We had a ker­fuffle once, when the wrong dates were sent out,” he said. “Some stu­dents caught it, but some didn’t, so I guess they felt like some of the stu­dents were at an advantage.”

He smiled, saying the sit­u­ation “took a bit of cleaning up.”

Usually, though, there aren’t too many student problems the day of, he said, “because stu­dents have talked to their peers, and they know the process.”