Students reflect on late registration times due to limited AP and IB courses

Wednesday, March 25, 2020 - 5:06pm

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Design by Aya Salim

As backpacking — the period when students select potential classes prior to officially registering — quickly approaches for the fall term, many students are awaiting their enrollment appointment time, which goes live on March 30 at 8 a.m. on Wolverine Access. Undergraduate students will receive an enrollment appointment that occurs somewhere between April 6-17. 

Enrollment appointments are assigned based on the Credit Towards Program (CTP), which is a combination of credits earned at the University, credits from Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses and transfer credits. Typically, juniors enroll before sophomores, who enroll before freshmen. However, many students matriculate at the University with a wealth of credits from AP or IB courses from high school. 

For students from under-resourced high schools with a limited number of AP or IB options, their enrollment appointments often come later, putting them at a disadvantage when choosing courses. Likewise for students who attended high school internationally whose advanced courses do not transfer to the University as college credit.

As a result, these students have to wait for their registration dates, hoping that enough room remains for them to enroll in classes required for their degrees. Once they are enrolled, they sometimes have to take more classes per semester to graduate at the same time as their peers because they were unable to transfer credits. 

LSA sophomore Alexis Irlbeck attended a high school that offered just one AP class traditionally, AP Literature and Composition. The course was only available to seniors considered “advanced” in English for two years. 

“My junior year, I was the pilot student for online AP classes, and they only let me take it to see how the workload would be,” Irlbeck said. “I succeeded in getting an A in the class and a 5 on the exam, so they opened up the program to a select few other TAG (Talented and Gifted) students, but we were still only allowed to take one AP class at a time. I took AP U.S. Government and Politics first semester of senior year and AP Microeconomics my second semester. I had never even heard of IB classes until I came to the University of Michigan.”

Often last in line to register, Irlbeck said she not only has a limited number of courses to choose from but has less flexibility in choosing what times she has class. She said this makes it difficult for her to find a balance between coursework and her various jobs on campus.

“There are some obvious downsides to being last in line to register, and those issues are compounded second semester of each year,” Irlbeck said. “This is because I have to leave either my Mondays or Fridays open until 1 p.m. for one of my jobs. This is really difficult in and of itself, but then you add in the fact that I’m registering late anyways.”

Irlbeck is a double major in philosophy and economics. She said because late enrollment appointments have led to her making little progress toward either major, she must instead accommodate her schedule to focus on distribution requirements to still graduate on time. 

“I wasn’t able to take a single economics or philosophy course this semester, which is obviously very frustrating because I’m making zero progress towards my major,” Irlbeck said. “I decided to focus my efforts on my minor, and am taking two classes for that at the moment, as well as taking two other classes to fulfill my last two distribution requirements. I’m nervous that if this happens again next semester, I’ll have all my distribution credits taken care of and only two more classes left for my minor, so I’m not sure what I would do.”

Irlbeck said she understands the benefit of AP credit for many students but still feels that many students who didn’t have the opportunity to earn this credit are left behind when it comes to registration.

“On one hand, I understand how students who took AP courses,  even if they don’t need them in college, want to be rewarded for their hard work by getting an earlier registration date,” Irlbeck said. “On the other hand, it’s incredibly unfair to students like myself who didn’t have the opportunity to load my high school schedule down with four AP classes for six semesters of high school.”

University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald wrote in an email to The Daily that the CTP system is almost universal in higher education, though the University is constantly reviewing its procedures to ensure they are serving students well. He noted the University has received questions about the registration in the past.

“As students progress in their academic careers (i.e., advance from freshmen to sophomores to juniors to seniors), it’s important they be able to register for the classes they need to fulfill their graduation requirements,” Fitzgerald wrote. “When students are early in their academic careers, they have more options for taking various courses and electives and more time to get the classes they need.”

Engineering sophomore Maxim Hayes went to a high school that offered five AP classes total. Because multiple AP classes were scheduled in the same time slot, Hayes was only able to take two. As a computer science student, Hayes said he faces even more challenges with late registration dates as the department is known for its notoriously lengthy waitlists. Because of this, Hayes has ended up on the waitlist for the same course an entire year apart.

“There are so many students pursuing a CS degree that the department cannot keep up with hiring faculty needed to teach all of the students,” Hayes said. “When I first had access to upper-level courses, I remember picking out a few interesting ones that would be relevant in my career after college. Unfortunately, I watched as those classes filled up and started to accumulate large waitlists just before I was able to register.”

Since he could not get into the classes he wanted, Hayes said he had to take random upper-level courses he was not interested in to stay on track to graduate.

“Fast forward to registration for this term, I remember signing up for one of the classes that I had missed taking last semester, only to see myself back on the waitlist for the second time in a row,” Hayes said. “There’s really no reason that I should have to wait a whole year to take a very relevant and desired course. I just think it's absolutely crazy that I pay so much tuition and do not have access to courses that interest me or will be extremely helpful in my career.”

Hayes said even if he were able to take all of the five available AP classes at his high school, he would still be at a significant disadvantage compared to most students at the University. He said the CTP registration system puts underprivileged students at a large disadvantage.

“The registration system is biased toward those who come from wealthier school districts that have access to a large number of AP and IB classes,” Hayes said. “It’s an issue that the administration doesn’t seem to address and only makes me feel like my education is worth less than those who came from better school districts, especially since an issue like this has such a simple fix: ignore credits that aren’t used towards degree requirements.”

Engineering sophomore Yusuf Sbeih is both a transfer and international student. At his high school in Jerusalem, he took advanced courses, but because they are not AP or IB, they are not recognized by the University. Sbeih said this coupled with long waitlists for CS courses has often made registration a source of stress and frustration for him.

“Registration based on credits ended up with me getting really late registration dates, usually the latest registration date available or the day before that,” Sbeih said. “Most of the classes I want are usually filled up by then. The CS department is already overcrowded so that doesn’t help.”

Sbeih said he believes the advanced courses he took at his high school were similar to what most American high schools offer in AP classes and should count for American university credit despite being international.

“I'm a U.S. citizen, but I did most of my schooling in Jerusalem, so as far as credits and registration goes, I am considered an international student at U-M,” Sbeih said. “The curriculum I learned in Jerusalem was actually very good, it involved advanced math and science to the level of what most AP courses in the U.S. offer. However, U.S. universities are just unfamiliar with our curriculum to the point where there is no official gateway to get college credit for any work done in high school.”

Sbeih said the current registration system is outdated and fails to meet the needs of many students.

“Colleges do a good job advertising acceptance and diversity, but once you get through the door, there is a lot of bureaucratic nonsense you have to deal with,” Sbeih said. “Not only is the current registration system unfair, it is not malleable at all. I’ve personally reached out to several advisers and administrators about this issue, and all I get is variations of ‘It is what it is.’"

Sbeih said the system is not only unfair to international students but to students from under-resourced high schools as well.

“It’s unfair that these people’s lives get harder once they get into college,” Sbeih said. “They don’t have much flexibility in the number of credit hours they take because they start from scratch. They don’t have much time to try out classes and find what majors suit them best due to most of their time going towards fulfilling general requirements. Some of them sometimes end up going to school for longer than they planned just because they didn’t have enough flexibility during their time in college, which causes them to end up taking a hit financially for an extra semester or year of college.”

Irlbeck suggested alternative methods for choosing enrollment dates, which are based upon credits within class standing.

“I’m a sophomore and some freshmen registered days ahead of me … I wish that registration could be based on credits within your own class,” Irlbeck said. “Even students who come in with a high number of AP credits often take four years to graduate because of the nature of this University. My proposal would be for registration to start with, for example, the person with the highest number of credits in the class of 2021 down to the person with the lowest number of credits in the class of 2021, then to repeat with ‘22, ‘23 and so on.”

Sbeih echoed Irlbeck’s statement that enrollment appointments should be assigned based on class standing rather than undergraduates as a whole. He suggested considering individual needs of students to prioritize those who come from less privileged backgrounds.

“Class standing should definitely factor into registration times, however, there should be a clear cut difference between let’s say a classic junior and a freshman with junior standing,” Sbeih said. “...I’d also suggest that universities take a closer look at students at an individual level, to see exactly what kind of requirements the student has left to complete and how long they plan on staying in school. This would help better determine who needs a higher priority in registering for which classes.”

Reporter Angelina Brede can be reached at angbrede@umich.edu.