In both culture and policy, university life tends to be tailored to the “traditional” student who enters college ready for a four-year, full-time student experience.
Nontraditional students, on the other hand — particularly student-parents and students working full time — must navigate an institutional infrastructure that’s neither designed for them nor has the flexibility or equity-oriented remedies necessary to accommodate their needs.
By granting students working full time and parenting students priority registration, UT could ensure nontraditional students get the classes they need. In doing so, UT could finally effectively prioritize nontraditional students.
School days are usually designed for the “traditional” student, whose biggest scheduling hurdle involves avoiding early morning classes. However, it is a privilege to not have to schedule education around other obligations — one that’s unfortunately easy to overlook.
Christella Villatoro, a sociology and psychology junior as well as a student-parent, highlights the scheduling struggles nontraditional students face that don’t cross the minds of most undergraduates.
“Nontraditional students, we have other priorities, we have other things that don’t necessarily come before school, but like I said, are priorities,” Villatoro said. “I think it is important that we register for classes first because either way professors are already tailoring the class toward traditional students, so it would be nice if we could at least pick our schedules.”
Jeff Mayo, assistant director of the First-Year Experience Office, corroborated priority registration as being a service that could benefit this population of students, noting that this is something he has been thinking about.
“Student-parents share with us that their commitment to their children pulls them from campus sometimes either early or late in the day,” Mayo said. “When we have done surveys and focus groups, priority registration typically comes up as a recommendation or as a service that they identify that would be helpful.”
However, a simple acknowledgement that this would be a worthwhile service is not enough. UT must take actionable steps to implement this change.
The Office of the Registrar, which typically handles registration decisions, was not able to respond to requests for comment before the publication of this column.
Extending priority registration to student-parents and those working full time would be a fairly simple process, as some students already have access to priority registration.
Students registered with Services for Students with Disabilities may be granted access to priority registration in order to “have more flexibility in choosing times and locations of classes” and “better make accommodations for a disability.”
Moreover, according to the student athlete resource guide, student-athletes must only “complete their appropriate advising activity to be granted the privilege of early registration.”
The fact that athletes can schedule their classes around their athletic practices while working and parenting students’ needs are not accommodated demonstrates that UT’s registration policies are not aligned with their stated commitment to equity.
Parenting and working students just need to be invited to tap into this existing service.
Granting parenting and working students access to priority registration is a simple and painless step that UT could take to make its academic environment more inclusive. It would signal to all students that no matter how they got here, they are valued.
It would also help students succeed.
“That’s the first step because that gives them some type of autonomy and control over their schedules,” Villatoro said.
UT must take action to remove obstacles that reinforce the idea that “traditional” students (and athletes) are more of a priority than their peers.
Strelitz-Block is a Plan II and anthropology sophomore from Austin, Texas.