Registration debacle prompts an apology

Flood of students forces college to cancel many adult ed classes

October 05, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

The Community College of Baltimore County has taken the unusual step of issuing an apology after its phone lines jammed and it was forced to cancel hundreds of adult education classes this fall -- its first season operating the county's adult education program.

The college, which operates campuses at Dundalk, Essex and Catonsville, took over the evening adult education program from the county school board in July as a way to collect an additional $1.8 million in state subsidies. The college receives state funds for each student it enrolls.

But college officials acknowledged this week that they fumbled the start-up, saying they canceled classes and turned away students because their registration system couldn't handle the crush of applicants.

"It was a total nightmare," said Richard Miller, a retired teacher who signed up for three noncredit classes this fall that were canceled.

The college apologized for the problem and said that students may still register for classes by showing up at the schools where the classes are scheduled.

"It was just a terrible situation because the system was so overloaded," said Joseph Testa, associate dean for community and continuing education at the Community College of Baltimore County.

Testa said the problem stemmed from the way the program was marketed. In the past, the Board of Education sent fliers home with students listing programs available in their neighborhood schools, he said.

But this year, CCBC mailed fliers listing courses to every county home, which meant a crush of calls in August and September, school officials said.

Most years, 30,000 students take classes, but the mailings generated thousands more calls than anticipated, school officials said.

With only two people to answer phones and register students, Testa said, callers were routed to the office's voice mail system; however, it could hold only 1,000 messages, leaving many students unable to register.

"The phones rang, and rang, and rang. It was like water flowing over a dam," Testa said.

Testa said that the college is offering courses at 19 high schools and vocational schools in the county, the number offered in past years.

Testa also said that about 100 of roughly 550 instructors who previously had taught in the program were unavailable because they mistakenly believed that they were being replaced when the college took control of the program.

"It was never our intention to fire any instructors, or not to hire any instructors back," Testa said.

The registration problems angered some who were shut out of classes. "This was definitely a fumbling of the ball at the administrative level," said Miller, 54, who has taken several classes over the past three years.

Miller said that, unlike previous years, no one bothered to notify him by mail or telephone that his classes had been canceled. He showed up three nights in a row only to learn that all three had been canceled.

"Instructors were there and students were there, but no one had any class lists, or seemed to know what was going on," Miller said.

Testa said the college canceled 200 of the 838 classes offered, or about 24 percent of the course offerings.

He said that such cancellation rates are not unusual because of low enrollments in some courses. But he said the college is going to hire more temporary help to ensure that the telephones are answered and the problems are not repeated.

"I'm sorry that this has happened, because the public has supported this program and has been very patient with us so far," Testa said. "We intend to do everything possible to regain the public's trust and confidence."

For information about the status of courses being offered, call 410-285-9566.

Pub Date: 10/05/99

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