Graduation interrupted: Students report scheduling hassles

A Civic Project story

Kelsey Elizabeth Bryner, an IUP art history major, says she will graduate in 2014 -- later than her peers -- because of class-scheduling problems. Photo by Amanda Miller.

Kelsey Elizabeth Bryner, an IUP art history major, says she will graduate in 2014 — later than her peers — because of class-scheduling problems. Photo by Amanda Miller.

By Amanda Miller

INDIANA — When Kelsey Elizabeth Bryner came to Indiana University of Pennsylvania in fall 2009, she was convinced she would graduate on time in four years. Three years later, Bryner, a 22-year-old art history major, prepared to watch her friends graduate without her.

Bryner said she had planned to graduate in May 2013 at the end of what was supposed to be her senior year. Instead, she said she will be graduating in May 2014. The reason: Every academic year, she had trouble enrolling in classes required for graduation.

“I should be graduating with my friends,” said Bryner, during an Oct. 12 interview at her home on School Street. “But now I have to suck it up and watch them graduate without me.”

For the past four years, Bryner said she knew she needed to take science classes to graduate, like geoscience and biology. Every time she scheduled for classes, however, all of the science spots were filled.  This year, Bryner was prepared to make sure that she got into the science classes she needed.

But when she met with her academic adviser, she discovered that all of the science classes were already waitlisted, which meant the courses were already filled. Students who wanted to enroll had added their names to a waiting list on the University Records and Systems Assistant, or URSA.

Bryner said she thought that was strange because scheduling had not yet officially begun.  She said she met with an associate professor in the Art History Department, who advised Bryner to send e-mails to the science professors and see if they could somehow get her into a class. The advising professor helped Bryner write them.

After waiting for weeks in early October, Bryner finally received a few responses.She said the science professors told her that spots in a few classes had opened up and that she needed to register for the classes right away before the spots were re-taken.

Despite the opening, Bryner said she resented being left at the mercy of the university and its control over her scheduling.

“They act like I control what day and time I can schedule,” Bryner said.

Even if Bryner got into one of those classes, she said she knows she will not be able to graduate with her friends in May 2013 because she would still need an additional science class.

Bryner said she holds a grudge against IUP when it comes to scheduling and wishes the school would do something to fix it.  She added that does not want other students to experience the troubles she had.

BRYNER IS NOT alone when it comes to scheduling problems.

Sarah Lynn Shepherd, IUP senior child development major, had troubles with class scheduling. She expects to graduate in May 2013. Photo by Amanda Miller.

Sarah Lynn Shepherd, IUP senior child development major, had troubles with class scheduling. She expects to graduate in May 2013. Photo by Amanda Miller.

Sarah Lynn Shepherd, 22, a senior child development major, said throughout her college career she had problems enrolling in the classes she needed. Up until the fall 2012 semester, Shepherd said she thought she, too, would be a May 2013 graduate.

In her case, she could not get into several classes she needed for her major. At the end of her junior year, she said she grew excited because she thought that seniors got first pick in scheduling.

“I was actually looking forward to scheduling for once,” Shepherd said in an Oct. 20 interview at the Stapleton Library.” I thought since it was my senior year, I’d get first priority.”

Shepherd was wrong.  Once again, she could not get into the classes that she needed for the 2012 fall semester. She said when she met with her adviser to schedule classes for the 2013 spring semester, her adviser told her some depressing news.

“She told me that I could walk with my friends in May, but I needed to take summer classes to get my actual diploma in August,” Shepherd said.

Shepherd said it was bitter-sweet.  She was happy she could walk with her friends but didn’t understand why it came to this in the first place.

“Maybe this school should think twice about the amount of classroom space available before they keep increasing the enrollment,” Shepherd said.

Then, in early November, Shepherd said she got lucky.  She met with her adviser again, and this time her adviser gave her exciting news.  Spots in the classes that she needed had opened up. Once Shepherd registered for them, she could officially graduate in May 2013.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Shepherd said.  “Finally, my prayers came true.”

Shepherd celebrated and shared the good news with her parents. But she remained bitter. She wondered why it is so difficult for students to get into classes they need to graduate on time.

BRYNER AND SHEPHERD are two of a dozen IUP undergraduates who were interviewed in fall 2012 about class-scheduling problems. All 12 students said they had experienced scheduling problems during their academic careers. But the full extent of the perceived problems has not been documented.

Bryner speculated that state budget cuts in funding for higher education contributed to her scheduling problems: IUP’s record-setting enrollments have combined with deep budget cuts to produce more students but fewer classes in which to enroll.

IUP enrollments have set consecutive records in recent years. In fall 2008, enrollment was 14,310; in fall 2012 it rose to 15,379, an increase of 7.4 percent.

At most other schools in the 14-campus Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, enrollments have fallen in recent years, PaSSHE reported in October. Systemwide, enrollments declined by 2.9 percent between fall 2011 and fall 2012.

IUP’s enrollment increases have coincided with actual and proposed state funding cuts, which have generated campus protests. In March 2011, IUP faculty members and students rallied  in the Oak Grove  to protest 50 percent budget cuts proposed by Gov. Tom Corbett. One year earlier, Corbett successfully pushed a 20 percent cut in state funding for PaSSHE.

In March 2012, the campus union of faculty members and coaches mounted a lobbying effort in the Oak Grove. The effort distributed to students postcards addressed to Gov. Corbett that explained how budget cuts affected them.  Similar efforts were mounted on campuses statewide.

Around the same time, IUP administrators encouraged students to lobby state lawmakers to oppose additional budget cuts for higher education.

Legislators maintained level funding for 2012-2013. But fears that cuts would continue prompted faculty members at the time to predict what Bryner and Shepherd complain about now.

“I’m really worried about the students,” said IUP English professor Tina Perdue in spring 2011. “I’m afraid they’re going to be paying more to sit in bigger classes, and it’s not fair.”

IUP REGISTRAR Robert Simon said his office regularly analyzes enrollments, classroom capacities and other data, including trends. The registrar’s office shares the data with IUP’s college deans, who review the seat availabilities and make adjustments as necessary.

The registrar’s office also notifies academic departments when it foresees classroom-seating problems, Simon said. Only academic departments, working with their deans, can add class seats or sections.

Academic year 2012-2013 is first in which departments could allow wait-listing for their courses, Simon said.  The system allows departments to see whether they need to add course sections.

Student class-scheduling problems may be self-inflicted, Simon said.

“Other factors, like listening to your adviser, play a role in students having a difficulty in scheduling classes,” Simon said.

Students don’t always follow the advice of their advisers, he said. Some students won’t register for a class because they do not like the day or time it is offered. They wait until the next semester to register for it, only to discover that it is not being offered.

In September, the registrar’s office released a tool to assist students and faculty members with advising and registering. DegreeWorks  is the first phase of a Web-based tool that enables advisers to view a real-time comparison of a student’s academic coursework against program-specific requirements. The information is presented in an easy-to-read color-coded checklist format, Simon said.

Students will be able to access the online tool in spring 2013, Simon said. Additional features will allow long-term course planning, an archive feature that will allow advisers and students to review their plans, including a notes mode
DegreeWorks should minimize scheduling problems and improve communication between advisers and students, Simon said.

BRYNER AND Shepherd greeted news about DegreeWorks with hope. Both said the program was promising.
Shepherd said she was relieved that IUP was doing something to help future students.

“Hopefully, the scheduling process will get better with this program,” Shepherd said. “Students should be enjoying their time at IUP, not wasting their time stressing about scheduling.”

Amanda Miller, a senior journalism major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Pittsburgh. She is on schedule to graduate in May 2013 at the end of her fourth year at IUP.


Sidebar: For more information

For more information on this story, or to get involved, please contact the following sources:

Robert Simon,
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Clark Hall
1090 South Dr.
Indiana, Pa.  15705
Phone: 724-357-2217
Fax: 724-357-4858

Taylor R. Billman,
Student Government Association
Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Dr. John C. Cavanaugh,
Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education
2986 North Second St.
 Harrisburg, Pa.  17110
Phone: 717-720-4010
Fax 717-720-4011

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