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Column: Course registration remains a frustrating process for UNC students

Many students face frustration as they register for Spring 2022 classes on ConnectCarolina.

The time to register for spring courses is upon us, and UNC has rolled out a new registration process for students. Enrollment times — now based on credit hours — are over the course of four weeks, in which students can first register for up to 12 hours before registering for up to 17 during their second enrollment appointment.

Changes to course registration sound promising on paper, but UNC’s failure to implement meaningful and systematic changes to how students enroll in courses leaves many confused and without the credits they need for the spring.

Computer science is an example of a major that bears the brunt of these issues. In a message to students, the department recognized that many were unable to register for the courses they need to complete their degree requirements.

“While I can’t make any promises, please do know that we are trying to do our best to manage the resources we do have and, wherever possible, find ways to address the needs of students on the cusp of running out of time to complete the degree requirements for the major,” Ketan Mayer-Patel, an associate professor of computer science, wrote to the department’s email list.

In the email, the department also included a survey of unmet needs to account for students who were unable to sign up for the introductory computer science sequence. While the department can't make any promises, it has extended a hand to help students in frustrating situations as a result of enrollment flaws. Mayer-Patel said the computer science department adopted a preregistration process.

However, this responsibility should fall on the Registrar’s Office — not on individual departments. 

Last year, the computer science department attempted to set up an admissions process to alleviate the issues associated with a lack of faculty and available seats in required courses. 

Mayer-Patel said he expects the admissions process to be implemented for next fall, and he said the process allow individuals to enroll in the first course of the major, and then an application will be required — similar to the business school. 

"At least this way, most people can explore computer science through the first course, and allows for an early indication of whether or not you can complete the coursework. This gives you an option to find a plan B, another major that interests you or another institution," Mayer-Patel said. "It's obviously better than letting a registration time decide for you — possibly too late."

But many individuals raised questions about how equitable the admissions process would be for students who come from diverse backgrounds who may not have programming experience.

Kevin Jeffay, who chairs the department, said UNC fails to pay attention to faculty who leave the school. He said 11 tenure-track faculty members have left the University in the last five years, with more expected to depart in the future.

“Because of the lack of growth at UNC, and the fact that at virtually all peer institutions (computer science) has grown or is growing dramatically, faculty leave for greener pastures,” he said. 

A lack of faculty leads to the limited availability of courses, not only in computer science, but also in other departments across the University. This has not gone unnoticed by students as they fill their enrollment shopping carts.

Assistant Provost and University Registrar Lauren DiGrazia said the Registrar’s Office recognizes this issue.

“The campus, especially the College of Arts and Sciences, is continuing to look into the availability of high demand courses and how to address the need for additional seats in very popular majors and classes,” she said.

The new enrollment schedule was implemented with ease in mind, DiGrazia added. 

With registration season coming to an end, it is clear the evaluation of high-demand courses was not a priority. 

In order to further address these glaring problems with registration, UNC needs to focus on retaining faculty just as much as it works to allocate faculty. Departmental growth is not sustainable if professors feel their work is more meaningful at other institutions. 

Lastly, the University needs to improve ConnectCarolina and online processes by which we sign up for courses to make them more intuitive and with less room for technological error. ConnectCarolina’s outdated infrastructure remains a barrier, especially for first-year students who are unfamiliar with the process. 

Searching for courses, navigating course details, adding courses to your shopping cart and accessing enrollment times are all multistep processes that students are left to navigate with limited guidance. Registration should not be something students dread — the process must be streamlined and made more accessible for the student body.

Until these changes are made, registration will continue to be synonymous with frustration for students. 

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@rajeeganesan | @caitlyn_yaede

Caitlyn Yaede

Caitlyn Yaede is the 2023-24 print managing editor of The Daily Tar Heel and oversees weekly print production. She previously served as the DTH's opinion editor and summer editor. Caitlyn is a public policy master's student at UNC.