In my previous life as an admissions counselor at a small private institution, nothing concerned me more than allowing students to register late just so that we could meet our enrollment goals. I felt as if we were setting these students up for failure because they didn’t have adequate time to fully prepare for the start of classes. Now that I work at a community college, our culture is all about access for all students. Many believe that being flexible with the registration deadline is part of that culture; providing a sense of an open door policy. John Roueche, a renowned expert on community colleges, in his work discussed the importance of students attending orientation and being in the classroom on their first day of the semester. He said that if students are allowed to register late, they will out on these very important aspects of the new student experience. Orientation provides students with the opportunity to become familiar with the culture of the institution, so when they start the semester they can focus their efforts on their coursework, rather than navigating campus. It also provides them the chance to have early connections with their peers, staff, and faculty. He also found that the first day of classes is when the at-risk students become engaged and form connections which affects their persistence and success. When students miss out on the first day of class, students miss out on the opportunity to build those connections and prevents faculty from setting the foundation for the course, which can also affect those that were there on the first day. I always knew from anecdotal evidence that those students that were allowed to register and start after the start of the semester struggled to succeed, and ended up affecting our attrition rate.
Based on the research conducted at other community colleges and with the increased conversation around persistence and completion, we decided to investigate the success rate of our students based on when they registered. We looked at retention rates for students based on their week of registration, through the second week of classes. We also looked at the percentage of students who achieved good academic standing in their first semester (above a 2.0 GPA). The results were overwhelming when comparing the students that registered on-time versus late. We considered on-time registration to be those that registered at least two weeks before the start of the semester, and late registration as the week before the semester and the first two weeks of classes. The data showed us that 73% of students who registered on-time persisted to the spring semester compared to 50% of students who registered late. In addition, 73% of students who registered on-time achieved a 2.0 or higher compared to 60% of those that registered late. These figures are based on a three-year average.
Obviously the data provided us with substantial evidence that the students who register late are not as successful as those that register on-time. Our next step was to pull a campus-wide group together that included staff and faculty from the various areas on campus including student services, faculty, the business office, and athletics. This group looked at the data (there was much more analyzed than just the few data points presented above), reviewed best practices implemented at other institutions, and discussed the implications of implementing a late registration policy. The main concern for implementing a late registration was the impact on enrollment, especially considering the decrease in enrollment we had just seen for fall 2013. As a group, we decided that the benefits to the students outweighed the risk to enrollment and that we would offer a delayed session for the students who attempted to register late to reduce the effect on enrollment.
Even though the data provided evidence that the students that register the week before the semester are less successful, we were not ready for that big of a change. So, we wrote the policy so no student could register for a course after it has met for the first time. We developed a communication plan to alert both new and continuing students regarding the new registration deadline. We also worked with Residence Life to determine when the delayed-start students could move into housing. One thing I would have changed would have been to be more intentional with marketing our delayed start to the external community, as we only had about 65 students enroll in the delayed-start, which is not the outcome we anticipated. We also put into place an exception procedure where our academic advisors would have a conversation with the students to determine if their circumstances warranted an exception. As a result of this and other student success initiatives implemented this academic year, we have seen a 2.1% increase in our fall to spring retention.