16-unit cap traps students in a five-year university

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Now that the course offerings for fall have been posted online, the scramble for classes has begun. In the quarterly ritual of class selection, students weigh class times, breadth and major requirements, difficulty and more in the hope of completing the Tetris puzzle that is choosing classes. One requirement, though, overrides all else when selecting a course schedule: the dreaded 16-unit cap.

To ensure that all students were able to enroll in classes, a unit cap was first implemented in 2011. For a campus growing in size and in reputation, this was both a positive and necessary step forward. UCR would be able to expand its course offerings to more students, enabling more people to enroll and earn a degree. Implementing a unit cap was a logical decision in a time of state funding cuts and more desire than ever for a degree of higher education.

So UCR moved forward with the unit cap plan. The result is the system students now know: When courses first open for registration, students are only eligible to take 16 units’ worth of courses. The idea is good in theory, but in practice it has caused recurring nightmares for students as they struggle to enroll in the courses they need. Why? Because the problem is not the unit cap. The problem is the number of units UCR has selected for the cap.

Sixteen units were chosen because most courses are four units; this cap would ideally allow UCR students to enroll in a full load of four courses and graduate on time. But plenty of courses are five units, which upsets the delicate 16-unit balancing act students are forced to perform by pushing them one unit above the cap, forcing students to drop a course they are prepared and willing to take.

The only option left for students is to drop a class, often one that is necessary for their major. When second pass rolls around, students finally uncross their fingers and emerge from their nervous exhaustion to dejectedly discover that the class they’ve dropped is now completely full. And so is the waitlist.

Read more »