A pre-registration requirement stood in the way of tens of thousands of UW students getting ready to sign up for spring classes. Would they comply in time?
By Ignacio Lobos
It’s 5:59 a.m. on a Friday in February and fingers throughout the Puget Sound metropolitan area rest on keyboards waiting to click “submit.”
Bad Bunny in town for a big concert? Try again!
Exactly at 6 a.m. on Feb. 10, registration for spring quarter 2023 at the University of Washington was under way — and in just under five minutes, more than 6,000 Huskies signed up for classes. By the end of the day, 12,215 students or about 27 percent of the student body had registered without a glitch. And by the end of registration period 15 days later, more than 43,000 students at the Seattle, Bothell and Tacoma campuses were set for the start of spring quarter.
Getting eligible students to register without a glitch is information technology at its best — groundwork laid by tech experts long before the first student clicked the submit button.
But key to a smooth registration process is helping students navigate pre-registration requirements, which this year included a new required Title IX online course.
Title IX is a 1972 federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in schools, colleges, and universities. Policy changes in 2020 required administrators to add specific sexual misconduct grievance procedures for students, faculty and staff, including training, which led to the creation of the UW’s Title IX online course.
Tracking who has taken the course and then ensuring they were cleared for registration was no small feat, said Pat Dunn, director of Student Program in UW Information Technology (UW-IT), one of many units that support the various administrative systems that make it possible for a student to sign up for classes, apply to the UW, and request financial aid, among others.
“There’s a lot of heavy lifting that goes into each registration period,” Dunn said. “It’s an incredible team effort each quarter as UW-IT teams run the registration effort behind the scenes.”
Information campaign helps drive Title IX compliance
There was some trepidation among UW administrators across three campuses about how the Title IX course requirement would affect registration period. Academic year 2022-2023 new and returning students were advised repeatedly over several months that they could not register without completing the Husky Prevention & Response (Title IX) student course. But students are busy people. How many of them would take the course before Feb. 10?
An information campaign, directed by Kiana Swearingen, the UW’s Deputy Title IX Coordinator for Education & Prevention, was an important driver behind student compliance. Swearingen and Michael Mooney, Systems & Technology Analyst for Compliance Services, also worked closely with UW-IT to create a system that could handle the new requirements and smooth the registration period.
“Registration went really well thanks to the incredible leadership provided by Kiana, who led communication efforts to reach students and advisers so they would be aware of the need to complete the course,” said Helen Garrett, university registrar and chief officer for enrollment information services.
“She also worked with UW-IT to create a system that worked and was successful on opening day,” she said.
Deft coding lifts blocks quickly after students take Title IX course
A registration block is not something that is put in place casually. However, Title IX training is a federal requirement, and the thorough online course tailored for students exceeds the minimum content required by law.
The UW considers its online prevention and response course about sex and gender-based violence and harassment vital as it seeks to foster positive, respectful, and equitable work and learning environments and endeavors to stop violence and harassment before it happens. Students, like everyone else in the UW community, play an important role in building a respectful environment for themselves and their peers.
But a new requirement can create unique technology challenges. How do you get students to comply with the new course requirement? And how do the systems recognize who has and who hasn’t complied? And when a student does comply, how does the system recognize the filled requirement and open up the registration queue quickly so the student doesn’t lose a valuable place in line to register?
UW-IT experts across several divisions partnered with Swearingen and others across the University to put a plan in place, said Pat Smith, a UW-IT business systems analyst involved in the project. Students received notices early and across platforms to ensure they saw and understood the need to take the Title IX course. They received similar notifications during the Covid 19 pandemic, when they were required to show proof of vaccination to sign up for classes.
A clear path to registration
Before the spring registration period, students who hadn’t yet completed the Title IX course saw a registration block prominently displayed when they signed in to MyPlan, the UW’s academic planning tool, or MyUW, an app that connects students to resources they need every day, Smith said.
And a warning also appeared on the final registration page if they tried to register before completing the course. Links were added to all these resources so students could easily find their way to the course.
And then UW-IT worked on the backend systems to allow the registration block to be lifted within five minutes of course completion. This last part took some magical code writing, since student systems don’t reside in a single place. However, UW-IT tech experts wrote new code to stitch these systems together so they could exchange information quickly.
Swearingen said putting a block on registration was not an easy decision, but complying with the law is important. Students care about these issues but like everyone else, they needed a few reminders to complete a task. The end result: an incredibly smooth registration period with practically no frantic calls from students to the UW’s help desks.
“Our Compliance Services unit is immensely grateful for the partnership with UW-IT to implement a registration block for the Title IX student course,” Swearingen said. “So many people on the UW-IT that we partnered with were crucial.”
“Their expertise with UW student data systems helped us identify, build and implement the best solution possible,” she said.