University of Iowa piloting registration wait-list system

Plan could graduate more students within 4 years

When registering for classes at the University of Iowa, students are tasked with piecing together a workable schedule that meets their wants, needs and time demands.

Prerequisites can come into play, along with course requirements – such as grade point average and year in school. Fitting it all together can be so challenging at times that some students fail to graduate in four years simply because classes and sections they need – in the time slots they can meet – are full.

But starting today, when early registration begins for the spring semester, the UI is rolling out a pilot version of a new online wait-list program aimed at making registration easier and more efficient.

The program, mirrored after those at other Big Ten universities, also could help Iowa meet its goal of graduating more students in four years, said Larry Lockwood, UI registrar and assistant provost.

“We want to make sure every student takes the required courses they need to move on and get out of here in four years,” Lockwood said. “And this is one way to do that.”

The new wait-list program is being rolled out in a small-scale pilot version this week, as early online registration begins. Students wanting to register for courses chosen for the pilot program will see a “wait list” icon on their registration screen – if the class is full – and they’ll be able to sign up to be placed on a first-come-first-served list.

As spots open up in the wait-listed courses, students signed up will be sent a notification that they have 24 hours to register, according to Lockwood. They also will get a 12-hour notification, a 4-hour notification and then an alert that “you missed your offer and lost your place,” Lockwood said.

The students get 24 hours to accept the offer to allow them time to reconfigure their schedule, if necessary. The wait-list program also will make some basic checks to ensure a student is even eligible for a course before allowing him or her to be placed on a list.

“It looks to see if the department has put any requirements on a course — like you have to have a certain GPA,” Lockwood noted.

The program will not check to see if wait-listed students have fulfilled prerequisite requirements for a course — at least not in its initial version, Lockwood said.

That is too complex a question, as some students take courses at other institutions or have special circumstances allowing them to enroll.

“That can’t happen accurately yet,” Lockwood said. “But we’re getting close.”

And wait lists only will be offered during the period of time students can self-enroll online. Once that period ends, wait lists will be turned off, Lockwood explained.

Who and how it helps

The wait-list program will work in concert with the UI’s updated student record system that went live almost one year ago. If all goes smoothly with the pilot, the UI will roll it out campuswide, offering it to all departments and colleges for the 2014 summer and fall semesters, Lockwood said.

Departments won’t be required to offer wait lists for every – or any – sections or courses.

“It will be up to a department to choose if they want a wait list or not,” Lockwood said.

And, conversely, departments have been allowed to offer wait lists before now, even though there was no campuswide wait-list program or policy in place. Many of the departments that previously offered course wait lists did much of that work manually, and inefficiently, according to Lockwood.

“Some of them were done in Excel spreadsheets, and some just had a piece of paper with the secretary,” Lockwood said. “And, in those cases, the students had to contact the department to say, ‘I want to be on a wait list.’”

In addition to helping students piece together an efficient and workable schedule while also making sure every spot in a class is filled, Lockwood said, the new central wait-list program will help department officials gauge the popularity of certain courses.

It might prompt a department to add more sections of a course in the future.

“It will help us to see how many people really want to take the course and to offer more sections and prepare for next year,” Lockwood said. “It helps us manage our resources better.”

Although it potentially offers significant benefit to students, the wait-list program might end up creating more work for departments and staff members who have not dealt with wait lists previously, said senior associate registrar Tom Kruckeberg.

“It might require more effort on a department’s part,” he said. “But it’s for the benefit of the students.”

"Taking a lot of staff time"

UI officials decided to create a systematic wait-list program after other Big Ten institutions had success with them.

One UI department that has been using wait lists for years and is eagerly anticipating the streamlined system is the UI chemistry department – with its numerous required lectures and labs.  The department began offering some form of wait lists years ago to accommodate all the students who need to take the same courses to fulfill degree requirements, said Jessica Alberhasky, chemistry center coordinator.

The department’s current wait-list system starts electronically but then requires staff members to manually contact students – a cumbersome task, Alberhasky said.

“We have very very large courses here,” she said. “Just one of those classes has almost 80 sections.

"To keep a paper list for those sections was time consuming. It was taking a lot of staff time to go through and email students.”

The department also is eager to use the wait-list system to track popular courses and create more options for students.

“If we have a class that we know is full, we will implement a wait list for that class so we can see if there is a need for another section,” Alberhasky said. “We do that because some students need a course to complete a degree on time.”

UI freshman Molly Vonderhaar said she managed to get all the courses she wanted during her first registration go-around. But she’s glad wait lists could be an option in the future.“Especially if I have to take classes that upperclassmen have to take because they get priority,” she said.

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