It took Megan Fleming several days to add the basic statistics course she needs for her minor. The freshman theater major made three attempts to register with ISIS each day, but the class was full each time.
"It?s really frustrating," said Fleming, who eventually got into the course. "We studied hard to get here, and we?re here to get an education first and foremost."
Fleming is one of the students whose registration might have been complicated by the antics of "course shoppers."
Course shoppers are students who sample courses by dropping and adding right up to the last minute, according to a recent UF study. These course shoppers are taking a toll on university resources as students scramble to register by the end of the drop-add period Wednesday night.
More than a third of college-level students qualify as course shoppers, according to the study.
Course shoppers come in two varieties. The "cyclic shopper" registers for a normal course load initially but changes their schedule repeatedly during drop-add week. "Bulk shoppers" register for a course load far larger than they intend to take and drop the ones they like least at the end of the drop-add period.
Both are considered a detriment to the enrollment process. Course shoppers crowd other students out of courses and pose a financial burden on the university.
"Though there?s nothing technically illegal about it, it?s a piggy behavior" said Albert Matheny, director of the Academic Advising Center at UF?s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Real damage is done when course shoppers hold courses until the last minute. By the time they drop the classes, other students have already confirmed their schedules and are unable to add the class.
When sections are added during drop-add because of a course?s apparent demand, the university must pay for additional instructors, Matheny said. But when course shoppers drop the class at the last minute, instructors are left teaching classes with empty seats.
"The problem is that when you?re in a situation of tight resources like we are and the courses don?t fill up, it?s inefficient," he said.
The university is strapped for funds to hire new instructors due to a previously announced hiring freeze. Administrators are still hiring faculty for high-priority positions.
A colleague told Matheny that it?s not uncommon for a high-demand, introductory-level English course to have 200 empty seats at the end of drop-add due to course shopping.
Matheny added that course shopping also reflects badly on the university by making it appear that an adequate number of sections aren?t being offered.
Course shopping has become a greater issue in recent years as budgets have dwindled, said Linda Serra Hagedorn, lead author on the study.
The study, titled "Transfer and Retention of Urban Community College Students," is a multiyear, comprehensive study of the college transcripts and educational outcomes of more than 5,000 students within the community college system in Los Angeles. Of that sample, 38 percent of students practiced at least some form of course shopping.
Students who have academic problems are more likely to course shop by swapping harder classes for easier ones during the drop-add period, Hagedorn said. The study found these students had lower grade point averages than non-shoppers 30 percent of the time.
"If students are looking for this technique as a way to get a leg up, that did not seem to be a very prudent action to take," Hagedorn said.
Hagedorn stressed that this study was conducted at a community college, where the student-adviser relationship isn?t as established as at UF. She said she thinks UF students may be less likely to course shop.
Still, Matheny recognizes the problems associated with UF?s population of shoppers.
He suggests that students be more considerate when registering for classes. They should read the course?s syllabus or contact the professor to prepare for enrollment. He also urges students to begin the drop-add process as soon as possible.and to lose the notion of having a perfect schedule.
"The bottom line is students need a certain amount of flexibility and freedom in figuring out their schedules, but it could be more efficient if students practiced better behaviors," he said.