The End of an Era: Paper Registration Goes Offline
By Elaine Teng '12, Editor-in-Chief
When students made the walk to the Registrar’s office in Converse last month, pre-registration card in hand, most of them probably did not realize it would be the last time they would do so. Next April, as students and faculty pick classes for the fall semester, the College will switch to online registration for the first time in its history with a new, three-digit course numbering system.

This switch, which Amherst is the last to make out of the Five Colleges, is the culmination of two years’ work by many members of the campus community, including faculty, students, Information Technology (IT) and the Registrar’s office. The planning process began in 2008 when the Committee on Educational Policy selected a group of faculty and students to work with IT and the Registrar to review available systems and decide what would be best for the College while keeping its values and practices in mind.

“The goal was to build a system that mimicked what we’re doing on paper,” said Sandra Miner, Director of Database Services. “That’s a theme that we really want to emphasize. Students will continue to meet with their advisors, still have face-to-face meetings. We want better service for students, eliminate running around for signatures, but respect that process.”

Professor of the History of Art Nicola Courtright was one of the faculty members of this committee, and she represented her colleagues in expressing their dedication and insistence on personal interaction with each of their advisees.

“The main thing about Amherst College advising is that we really value our relationship with our students in our offices talking about what they’re learning, what their intellectual growth is like, what courses they should take to create more intellectual growth, how they can challenge themselves, stretch themselves. We wanted to devise a system that would make that process necessary, so that we should still meet with them face to face but avoid the long lines, the ridiculousness of that piece of paper. We’re very happy they’re doing away with [it], but it was a tricky thing because the character of the small liberal arts interaction was something we wanted to preserve. That’s everything for us.”

As the various groups moved forward with the development of the system, it became apparent that the courses would have to renumbered “to make these rule-based,” as Miner put it, “so that a system could do it rather than a person.”

Therefore, beginning next semester, students will still plan out their classes in the course scheduler, meet with their advisors to discuss them and then, at their scheduled time slot during pre-registration week, they will enter those courses straight into AC Data. Their advisor will then log in to their version of the site, where they will give their approval. If a course requires instructor approval, students must set up meetings with that professor to discuss their qualifications, and the faculty member will then have the ability to either approve or deny their request electronically.

With the digitalization of registration, the Registrar’s office will have more time to focus on other issues, but they still encourage students to come by the office.

“For us, it’ll give us an opportunity to do things that are more proactive in terms of our service, because we won’t have that crunch of people in line. It’ll help us be able to get Five College registrations done more quickly because we won’t have the lines coming into the office, so we’ll be able to focus on other things,” said Registrar Kathleen Goff. “There will still be things that students need to come to my office for, to drop off the request for five courses, the special topics course forms, all of those pieces, for now. We like to have students come see us. We won’t miss the long lines, but it’s certainly different for the staff in my office who enjoy seeing the students come in, but we recognize that this is much better option for you [students] to not have that running around to do. It’s much more convenient for you.”

Issue 10, Submitted 2010-12-01 04:08:25