On Oct. 15, less than two weeks before registration for the spring 2022 semester was set to begin, over a hundred students enrolled in the University Honors Program received an email from Garland Crawford, associate professor of chemistry and a director of the program. Starting this semester, upper-level students would no longer be offered priority registration.
The main objective of the University Honors Program is for participating students to graduate with university honors on their degree, and it consists of the First-Year Honors Experience or the Engineering Honors Program for first-years and Service Scholars and college-specific programs for upperclassmen.
The First-Year Honors Programs typically represent the top 10% of incoming students each year.
“The purpose of that class is really just to give students exploration of what some options for engagement might be at Mercer,” Crawford said.
After students’ first year, they can choose to participate in Service Scholars, a selective program that engages students in community and international service. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, School of Engineering, Tift College of Education, Stetson School of Business and College of Health Professions all have programs and requirements within those colleges that allow students to achieve university honors. They can also choose to not continue with the University Honors Program.
There are around 120 students in the upperclassmen honors programs and about 85 students in the First-Year Honors Experience and the First-Year Engineering Program.
Changes were made to the program recently to allow students who were not in the first-year cohort to graduate with honors.
“Mercer’s a transformative experience, we’d like for students that maybe don’t hit those deadlines for admissions or kind of miss that window as part of the application process are still able to graduate with honors,” Crawford said.
This was when Crawford and the other directors began to notice issues with offering priority registration to honors students.
“One of the things that we identified as a disbalance in honors was priority registration,” Crawford said. “Students who came in with honors would stay with honors in order to maintain that priority registration.”
Plans to remove the priority registration began, and it soon became a matter of "when" rather than "if."
“Eventually, we probably want to uncouple the priority registration because it seems like it’s something students would go out of their way to hold on to whether or not they’re making progress in their degree," Crawford said.
In the spring of 2021, the last set of seniors on old honors program track graduated, and Crawford decided to “rip the band-aid off” and put the priority registration changes in place.
“I know it’s caused a bit of a strong reaction from a lot of students,” Crawford said. “For a lot of our honors students, this is the same thing that most of their peers have been going through for years. It’s just a matter of working through your schedule and being flexible about how you fit things in.”
Crawford did not think that the removal of priority registration would interfere with graduation or major requirements.
“Not getting priority registration should not cause someone to not graduate,” Crawford said. “Usually if it’s a question of not getting in, it’s more of a problem with the number of seats being offered and how it fits into a particular student’s schedule than the need for priority.”
Ryanne Franklin, a third-year student majoring in psychology, is a part of the Mercer Service Scholars program, one of the university’s honors programs.
Although Franklin is a third-year, she is currently taking senior-level courses, something she attributes to having priority registration throughout her college career.
Without priority registration, two courses that are required for her major had no seats available before her new registration time on Nov. 4 at 6 p.m.
Franklin thinks that the directors could have told students about the decision sooner prior to registration.
“There are more than a hundred people in the honors program,” Franklin said. “It makes no sense that they made a big choice for more than a hundred people and didn't even have the decency to send an appropriate email or respond to our questions afterward.”
“I freely admit that I probably didn’t roll this out the way I should have,” Crawford said. “I still believe it’s the right way to go, but I don’t think I really handled this as well as I could have.”
Franklin said that she is planning to get in contact with the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and that other honors students have done the same.
Crawford hopes that after this semester, honors students will be able to adjust to the registration change.
“Once we get through this semester and kind of get used to what I think the new normal is going to look like...I think this will be kind of a non-issue moving forward,” Crawford said.