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.”