Friday, August 28, 2015

What? You Mean Registering for Classes Hasn't Always Been a Breeze?

by Bryan Whitledge

In the final days before classes start at Central, students are busy doing all of the welcome weekend things that seem to them to be long-standing traditions: moving into residence halls and apartments, going to MAINStage and other welcome events, and catching up with friends at local watering holes. But students today miss out on an old Central tradition that caused the days immediately before the beginning of classes to be met with mixed emotions. Sure it was great to see old friends and start off the new year, but there was also an angst-filled, dreaded, headache-inducing, annual rite of passage to be endured by each and every student: registration and the subsequent drop / add period.

Registration in 1948

Today, months before classes start, students register through an online database complete with a fillable calendar, course numbers and names of instructors, meeting times, number of seats available in the course, and even the meeting place of the course. Students add classes to the schedule with a few clicks of the mouse and they are all registered. Then, if they change their mind about something, students can log into the system to make as many changes as needed until classes are in session. This is a dramatic departure from the just 20 years ago, when phone registration was the hot new technology, and it is light years away from how registration was handled for almost 100 years, up through the 1980s.

Registration in the Fieldhouse, 1953
Registration in the early twentieth century took place the day before classes began. The 1915 calendar noted that Registration took place at 1:00 pm on Monday, September 27 and classes began just 24 hours later. The 1948 Bulletin of the Central Michigan College of Education shows a similar 24-hour span of time between registration for undergraduates, but students enrolled in graduate programs in 1948 were instructed to arrive for registration on Saturday, September 25 with the first meeting of classes being the same day!

Drop/Add forms, ca. 1978
In the 1950s, as more students came to Central, the registration period was extended to the two days prior to the start of classes. This lasted through the 1960s. In addition to the two days of registration prior to the start of classes, students has seven days after the start of classes to change their schedule during the drop/add period. It was during this time that the Finch Fieldhouse became synonymous with registration and drop/add.

As the University moved into the 1970s, a preregistration system was put in place allowing student to register during the spring semester. Even so, students simply registered for the courses they needed, not for a particular section or a particular instructor or particular meeting times. Students would only find out their schedule when they came campus in the fall. Of course, dissatisfaction with schedules meant that many students braved long lines in a steamy Finch Fieldhouse during the drop/add session. The registration and drop/add process left many students and staff from the Registrar's Office frustrated. Regularly, calls for a change to the drop/add system were published in the CM Life, such as this letter to the editor in 1984 (4/13/1984, p. 4).

Registration in Finch Fieldhouse, 1973

One particularly difficult drop/add period occurred in January of 1991. A computer overheated leaving 9 drop/add terminals unusable and causing longer-than-usual waits and the cancellation of one of the drop/add days. An editorial in CM Life (1/11/1991, p. 4), expressed the frustration of the students. However, a ray of hope can be found in the later pages of the same issue of CM Life when it is noted that the University would be moving to an automated touch-tone telephone registration system (p. 6).

Technology in the 1990s moved at a blistering pace and by 1997, there was talk of an on-line registration system coming to campus for the beginning of the twenty-first century. This system came to fruition and the 2002 Yearbook features a two-page spread about telephone (STAR) vs. online (OASIS) registration (pp. 48-49).

Today, a very efficient system is in place, keeping students from having the chance to build character like those who suffered through registration and drop/add in a sweltering Finch Fieldhouse.