Efficiency in Class Registration

We are just about a week away from registration for Spring Term 2017. More than just being an easy topic to bring up to assuage an awkward conversation with that person you aren’t great friends with but somehow find yourself running into often, registration is cool because it gives most students a sense of excitement. I like to think there are two main reasons for this:

1) Most people like to plan, especially when the planning is almost entirely up to them. Registration gives us powerful autonomy, with a few clicks of a mouse we can essentially more or less determine how our day to day lives will be spent. We all know the person who revels in having “no class on Fridays” or “only one class on Tuesdays and Thursdays.” We also know the person who likes to point out how brutal going to class at 8am will be. Heck we might be that person. Either way, something about our makeup enjoys the scheming that goes into picking classes. Of course there are those of us who can’t stand being given this power and registration causes us a great deal of stress. Dread, rather than excitement, is probably the appropriate word to describe how they feel in anticipation of registration. But never mind that because I like to think my initial point still holds substantial water (I guess I could be wrong though).

2) There’s some level of uncertainty, large for some while miniscule for others, regarding what our final schedule will actually be. We can plan all we want and have several solid contingency plans but until we finish the registration process we don’t truly know all the classes we’ll be able to successfully register for. Again, the better word to describe this situation might actually be dread for some people, but I liken the feeling to heart pulsing excitement rather than impending doom.

Anyway, how does this all relate to economics? I have to admit that these two points relate to economics loosely at best but I wanted to make them anyway and I needed some way to introduce registration which actually does have an interesting relationship with economics.

I’d argue that our registration process, according to the  economic definition of the word, is efficient. While certianly not perfectly efficient, it seems to me that it does a generally solid job assigning goods (the classes) to the people who value them the most. Well in fact, while there’s no way to determine whether the students who enroll for a certain class are actually the students who value that class the most, we can safely assume they are. The major reason this is the case is that registration is tiered by amount of units, as students with more units pick their classes before students with fewer units. In doing so the school essentially assumes that the registration process is more valuable to students further along in their college career than those who are closer to the beginning. And I think this is an excellent assumption that is an accurate representation of the world.

The notion that being closer to graduation increases the value of classes to you is true in nearly all aspects of registration, particularly concerning classes that are required for graduation like econometrics, micro theory, and macro theory which are obviously more valuable to juniors and seniors who have a more limited period of time to enroll in them. It’s also the case regarding less important elective classes because the scarcity of time increases the value older students place on classes they know they have few chances to take. A freshman may have a greater affinity for Asian Art than a senior, but if that senior requires Survey of Asian Art to fulfill a core requirement and there’s no other ART Core class she can take then it’s easy to argue that the senior values it more highly then the freshman.

Of course registration is far from efficient in certain circumstances, particularly when students are of the same academic standing and which student is admitted to a class depends on chance more than value. But when it matters the most, registration does well to give classes to the students who value them the most. Ultimately the school errs on the side of caution by assuming that academic standing is directly correlated with value and in doing so it creates what I’d argue is a registration process that is efficient much more often than it isn’t. Keep this in mind when you register next week and remember that if you don’t get into one of your top choice classes it’s probably because someone out there values it more than you (unless you’re a senior of course in which case I have consoloation).

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