Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Disadvantageous Disenrollment

[Update: The Idaho State Journal ran a story on 8/19/09 noting that Idaho State University has been recognized as a "military-friendly" institution of higher education. It will be interesting to see if ISU retains this label after this disenrollment policy becomes effective.]

It comes as no surprise to those who have spent considerable time on the campus of Idaho State University or lived within this somewhat campus-based community that the University operates much like a dysfunctional family. There are topics not appropriate for the dinner table, members of the family that fly under the radar and there are vocal members that the others hope to avoid altercations with. Yet, in some ways this dysfunctional family operates, or hopes to operate, like a successful corporation--a corporation with a three-word mission statement: Recruitment, Retention, Revenue.

Recently, ISU notified faculty, staff and students that a new disenrollment policy would be effective this fall. The disenrollment policy would essentially drop students who had pre-registered for fall courses, but had not paid their fees prior to the first day of classes. Intended to make space in courses for fee-paying students and lessen the frustrations of students who had previously faced closed courses due to students registering and then simply not enrolling or paying for the semester, the new policy was met with criticism. Although not cited by the University when they reversed the decision and projected a January 2010 start date for the policy, there were many problems with the policy on the student level. The least of which was the cited reason that not enough students had been informed in a timely manner of the change.

The disenrollment policy ultimately puts a student at a disadvantage because if he/she intends to pay their fees on the first day of classes and chooses to actually attend class that morning instead of immediately paying their fees, they'll end up dropped from the class they attended and be in search of a new class, if in fact a suitable section is available, after having already been to the class in question. Instructors will continue editing their class lists after the first meeting and students who planned their fall schedule back in April will be back to square one. All because of a timing matter.

In addition to what the new disenrollment policy will do to the schedules of students who have planned their lives around a classes they pre-registered for, students who cannot pay their fees on their own and require financial aid of some sort will be put at a disadvantage. More often than in institutions with a lower rate of non-traditional students, ISU students are reliant on financial aid and scholarships. Not only do these students have to wait until the financial aid office clears the funds to pay their fees, they often have to jump through numerous paperwork hoops that can prevent them from paying their fees in any reasonable amount of time. There's already a system set up for students who know they have financial aid coming eventually--fee loans. Students can essentially borrow money from ISU to pay their fees and then whenever their student loans, grants, or scholarships come through, ISU takes that money. It can be problematic and stressful for students and this is without the now dreaded policy of being dropped from your classes the day they start, rather than at the end of the first week or as late as three weeks after courses begin.

It seems to me, and this is a purely a personal opinion that I hold as someone who has been enrolled in a lot of classes in my life, that students who have actually attended a course once or even for a week would be more likely to pay their fees and decide that being in school is the best plan for them. There are too many students out there, many just starting back to school, who would look at the fact that the system had dropped them from their classes before they could even step foot on campus to attend that would walk away at that point. Too many students would have the attitude of 'nobody knows I am supposed to be there, so I'll just forget this plan and go back to working full-time.' Sometimes students need that extra push and for students who do, allowing them a few extra days to pay their fees is actually a good thing. I tend to think that disenrolling students for not paying their fees before they've even stepped foot in a classroom is going to come back to bite ISU in terms of enrollment numbers. And enrollment numbers are what this corporation-type, mission-driven institution rely on.

The reason I mention the disenrollment policy is because of the many policies that are drafted on campus regularly, it is one that serves almost as a double-edged sword to this semi-corporate mission statement. Sure, the policy may prove to make a few students happier, students who now are able to enroll in courses that were closed previously due to the number of pre-registered students who hadn't paid their fees and sure, this policy will cut down on the amount of paperwork being channeled through the University by way of course add cards, but as I've said, I really think in the long term the policy will cost ISU their beloved revenue. It will serve as an obstacle prospective students who were on the fence about attending school will choose to bypass completely.

Surely there are disenrollment policies like the one ISU attempted to implement here, one at the University of South Florida where the new ISU Provost Gary Olson came from, but the many factors that make ISU unique require policies geared more specifically to the population of students that take advantage of the courses offered here.

Students have enjoyed the ability to register at ISU up until the first week and sometimes after the first day. These students aren't traditional in the sense that maybe they were employed back in February when other colleges and universities had their application deadlines. There are returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who require this type of registration/enrollment flexibility. And in this horrible economy, a student starting at ISU on Tuesday may be starting college after being laid off from a job they held for years, decades even. Enrollment flexibility is essential on a campus that caters to a unique cross-section of students (e.g. returning LDS missionaries, veterans, non-traditional or older students, students with young families, etc.) and the new enrollment policy that will now go into effect for the Spring 2010 semester may very well prove to be a disaster.

Unfortunately, the new enrollment policy is simply one of many questionable new policies being implemented by Dr. Arthur Vailas and other administration officials.

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