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What’s the largest major at Grinnell? (#1133)

Topics/tags: Grinnell

What’s the largest major at Grinnell?

I’ve been asked that question a few times in the past week. An alum asked because they wanted to put the question in a quiz bowl. A son asked [1]. I feel like it came up somewhere else, too.

Anyway, it’s not a question that I can answer easily. Why? First of all, I don’t have access to the official data, so I can only rely on the Campus Directory. Students do not allow their information in that directory [2]. So the numbers I normally use aren’t quite right. Second, many students are on leave this year, so they do not appear in the directory. I’m not even sure they appear in official counts; they certainly weren’t counted when I received counts of major advisees from the Registrar’s office. But we had a lot of third-year (and other) students on leave [3]. Third, even in a normal year students change majors, declare second majors and third majors [4], and so on and so forth. So counts are not consistent.

But we’ll assume that the directory data are representative, if not exact. This is also a reasonable time to check for majors; second-year students should have declared their majors [5].

Oh, yeah, there’s a further complication. How do you deal with Biological Chemistry? It’s not its own department. It’s one of the larger majors all by itself. And Biology is another of those larger majors. If we add them together—or even add half of the Biol. Chem. majors to Biology—then the Biology department has the largest number of majors. Oh well. That’s for someone else to decide. I’ll keep them separated by official major.

I’m going to start with the numbers in each class. According to the directory, 313 students remain in the class of 2021, 373 are currently in the class of 2022, and 385 in the class of 2023. Of course, this year also represents a higher-than-normal number of mid-year graduates, so the numbers for the class of 2021 are low.

Now let’s look by major.

Major 2021 2022 2023
Anthropology 15 11 17
Art History 6 5 5
Biological Chemistry 23 44 33
Biology 32 34 37
Chemistry 9 12 9
Chinese 0 4 5
Classics 10 6 7
Computer Science 44 48 53
Economics 35 40 52
English 22 30 24
French 13 12 9
GWSS 11 15 9
General Science 3 5 1
German 2 1 0
German Studies 2 2 7
History 26 16 15
Independent [6] 6 7 5
Mathematics 19 41 17
Music 5 8 6
Philosophy 6 10 8
Physics 18 19 20
Political Science 26 33 30
Psychology 28 31 23
Religious Studies 3 10 5
Russian 3 3 3
Sociology 28 22 33
Spanish 24 15 11
Studio Art 9 13 9
Theatre and Dance 6 3 6
Undeclared 0 0 13

There are some fascinating bits of information buried in all that. For example, three of the five Music majors in the class of 2021 are also Physics majors. And we have two History/Art History double majors [7]. I don’t know what to do with the variability in the size of the Mathematics major.

So, to answer the original question; If we believe that the Campus Directory data are representative and we ignore the Biology and Biological Chemistry confluence, then CS is the largest major at Grinnell, with Econ an incredibly close second in the class of 2023.

I’ve been saying for a few years that we are graduating approximately sixty CS majors per year. None of the CS numbers are at 60. But, as I said, we have mid-year graduates and we have about twenty students on leave. I’m pretty sure that if you add those in, we’d be at about sixty a year. And I know we have some planned double majors in the class of 2023. What worries me [8] is that when we add in the students in the class of 2022 who are now in the class of 2023, we’ll be over sixty. Most of the required classes can only handle sixty students in any one year. Oh well, that’s an issue for another day [9].

For fun, let’s see what the percentages look like for some of the larger majors. I’ve ordered these by class of 2023 numbers.

Major 2021 2022 2023
Computer Science .140 .129 .138
Economics .112 .107 .135
Biology .102 .091 .096
Biological Chemistry .073 .118 .086
Sociology .089 .0589 .086
Political Science .083 .084 .078

Fascinating. In any case, I think I can continue to give the same answer I’ve been giving: CS is the largest major at Grinnell. Believe it or not, I wish we weren’t.

Hmmm. All of this reminds me that I need to post my semesterly end-of-preregistration post this coming Saturday. More fun!

[1] Well, a son implied the question. I think they asked Do you think you’re going to pass Econ as the largest major? Of course, I think we passed Econ a few years ago.

[2] I believe it’s a small fraction of our students, but I do not know how small or large a fraction it is.

[3] I count approximately twenty CS majors on leave this spring.

[4] Yes, triple majors are becoming a thing at Grinnell. I believe that I was told that they don’t even require special permission anymore.

[5] The directory suggests that only 13 of 385 have not.

[6] Are you wondering about those independent majors? I know I always like to see the list. The class of 2021 has independent majors in Urban Planning and Design, Jewish and Israeli Studies, Agriculture and Sustainable Development, Creative Writing and Film, Health Science Writing, and Narrative Studies. The class of 2022 has independent majors in Global Environmental Studies, International Relations (three of ’em), Environmental Justice, Health Narratives, and Mathematical Models of Language. The class of 2023 has independent majors in Cooperative Systems, New Frontiers of Art, Medical Humanities, Integrative Health, and Higher Education Administration and Policy. Aren’t those cool?

[7] I only noticed that because the directory listing of History majors also includes Art History majors, so I have to do a manual recount. I am not criticizing the double major; it strikes me that Math/CS or Math/Physics are probably as close to each other.

[8] Or, more precisely, what would have worried me if I were Chair right now.

[9] And for another person.

Version 1.0 of 2021-04-18.