It’s a feeling many students know well: the panic that sets in when they realize their registration for next semester isn’t going according to plan. Yet some groups are more disadvantaged than others when it comes to this complex process, according to a recent study done by Gonzaga's biology department.
Over time, GU biology professors Nancy Staub and Brook Swanson began to notice patterns among students complaining about unsuccessful registration. They noted that many of the emails they received post-registration were from students pleading to get into classes to fulfill their requirements.
“A few years ago, students would register at midnight instead of 7 a.m.,” Staub said. “Members of the biology department noticed that the emails we would get at 12:05 a.m. tended to be from students in more vulnerable populations.”
Staub, Swanson and others spearheaded a study to identify if registration inequities exist among different minority groups including students of color.
In the GU registration process, students with more credits are prioritized over those with fewer credits. This means that students who enter their first year at GU with more Advanced Placement (AP) or Running Start credits often find themselves in the first registration slot each year.
Conversely, students who didn’t take those courses as part of their education before attending GU often end up with later college credit programs due to a lack of access to equitable resources.
“Students don't get to choose which high school they go to, and studies have shown that high schools that don't offer many AP classes tend to serve more vulnerable populations of students,” Staub said.
Their research examined disparities among groups of first-year students. For registration, first-year students are divided into three groups based on credits previously earned. The first group has an earlier time slot than the second, and likewise, the second group has an earlier slot than the third.
The researchers found racial disparities among the groups of registering first-year students.
“For non-minority students, about 18% of them are in that first group and only 36% of them are in the last group of freshmen to register,” Swanson said. “For minority students, only 12% of them are in that first group and almost 45% of them are in that last group.”
While GU’s intention isn’t to exclude certain racial and minority groups from access to the credit they need to succeed, that is the result.
“A lot of systemic racism is old policies that made sense at one point but now target different groups so that some people have privilege and others don’t,” Staub said.
As a result of the biology professors' study, the Equity in Registration Task Force was created to further investigate and address inequities in the registration process.
The task force is headed by GU theatre and dance professor Kathleen Jeffs, and its membership boasts several representatives of other on-campus organizations including the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Center for Cura Personalis. Other integral members of the task force include Shari Rasmussen and Heather Teshome, representatives from the Registrar's Office.
“Our office is always wanting to do the right thing for our students,” Rasmussen said. “So, whatever the task force determines to be the right solution going forward, we’re certainly happy to do the work to make the system as it should be based on the research the committee has done.”
The task force, while working to address how to better support students of color, is similarly working to eliminate other inequities unrelated to race. For instance, as Jeffs pointed out, inequities can emerge from seemingly minimal situations like having a poor advisor.
“The biology working group is concerned with racial inequities; the new task force is concerned with all of it,” Jeffs said. “It’s about race, but it’s not all about race.”
The task force will continue to work to determine if equitable registration via an alternate system is a viable option for GU.
“Our office wants to serve our students to the best of our ability and make things equitable across the board and at all student levels, so we will undertake the results that the committee proposes and we will work with the results to put them in place for future registration processes,” Rasmussen said.
If any changes are made to the current system, students can expect to see them as early as spring 2023 in a “test-drive” program, while implementation of full-scale system changes could occur during fall 2023 registration at the earliest.
A more equitable registration process potentially could have helped students like Kaila Okubo, a senior biochemistry major and co-president of GU’s Hawai’i Pacific Islanders Club.
“I’m from Hawai’i and I know my high school didn’t necessarily push getting college credit or Running Start,” Okubo said. “A lot of my friends from Hawai’i have lower credit statuses than those who aren’t [from Hawai’i].”
While the task force continues to conduct research, students should expect to see changes within the registration processes in the coming semester.
“We don't have any control over where students come from or what high schools offer AP credits,” Swanson said. “What we do have control over at Gonzaga is whether we decide to perpetuate those inequities or not.”