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Midway through preregistration for spring 2018

Topics/tags: Registration, Grinnell

Grinnell has an interesting process by which students register for classes. During a week-and-a-half period [1], students and their advisors agree on schedules for the next semester and then register the students for the courses. To avoid issues with first come, first served systems, Grinell allows courses to overenroll. At the end of the period, every department gets to figure out how to deal with what’s happened. If two sections of the same class are imbalanced, we will ask the Registrar’s office to balance them. If a course is overenrolled, we may cut students [2] or we may try to add a second section [3].

Two of the things that’s hard for me during preregistration is making sure that all of my advisees get registered and trying to have a non-trivial discussion with each one [4]. Right now, I have fifty-five advisees. I’m trying to get them registered far in advance of the deadline just in case things come up [5]. Of the fifty-five students,

  • One is graduating at the end of this semester. That student doesn’t need to preregister.
  • Eight are studying abroad next semester. Those students also don’t need to preregister.
  • Eleven are studying abroad this semester. I started conversations with most of those students last week. For some, we’ve finished preregistration. For others, further conversations are necessary. At least one has yet to respond to an email message; I’ve done my best to follow what was on their four-year plan.

So, after one week of registration, where do I stand? About eighteen are not registered. A few more are not fully registered. So, I’m not quite 2/3 done, but I’m close. I’ve sent a follow-up email to each one. A few of them are close, but we need to hammer out a few more things (e.g., to decide on a fourth course, to hear back from a faculty member when they are asking for a prerequisite waiver, to get some more contextual knowledge). Going through the list, checking on each, and sending those email messages took me about 90 minutes on Friday night.

It’s been interesting to see the range of choices students have been making. I love it when they say something like I have two majors [6]. I’ve chosen one course in each. Then I chose two other courses that help expand my horizons. In contrast, some students say I thought I should sign up for 12 credits [7] of CS. The really troublesome ones say I want to sign up for 12 credits of CS and 4 credits of Math or I want to sign up for 12 credits of CS and 4 credits of Economics or something similar. So we get to have a conversation about the goals and purposes of a liberal arts education.

One thing that I’ve had to do this year is to argue for the value of the core Humanities disciplines, which I think of as Classics, English, Philosophy, and Religious Studies [8]. To help with my arguments, I went back to the College Catalog’s statement on the elements of a liberal education [9]. Interestingly, nothing in that statement explicitly indicates why students should take a course in at least one of those four disciplines. How should I, as a computer scientist, explain the common value of these disciplines? The best I’ve come up with so far is Your education is incomplete unless you’ve had at least one course in which you explore the human condition through the close consideration of texts. But that’s not enough. Let me check the handbook again. Nope. That didn’t work. I guess I’ll stick with my current claim [10].

What else? Oh, it wouldn’t be a preregistration if I wasn’t checking on preregistration data. Let’s see … one week in and we already have three classes that are overenrolled. ART-111-02, Introduction to the Studio, is overenrolled by five. ART-111-01 is almost full. Students will probably be closed out. BIO-370-01, Advanced Cell Biology with Lab, is overenrolled by eight I expect that those students will get shifted to other 300-level Biology courses. I can’t tell if there’s enough room. ENG-205-02, The Craft of Fiction, is overenrolled by three. There are, however, slots in the early-morning section. Still, if past history is a predictor, I expect both sections to overenroll.

I have advisees in both ART-111-02 and ENG-205-02. I hope they get to take the courses next semester!

That’s it for my midway musing. I’ll return with an update at the end of preregistration and then again after cut/close/balance period.

[1] This year, it started on 6 November and will end on 16 November,

[2] Usually with a sensible prioritization system, like seniors get priority for major courses and undeclared students get priority for introductory courses.

[3] How do we add a second section? It depends on the department. Some departments have part-time faculty or faculty on shared contracts who can add another course to their teaching load. That requires convincing the Dean to pay for another section. Other departments drop one course in order to add another. It’s complicated. And we try to do it really quickly.

[4] I originally wrote substantial discussion, but that’s for when I have fewer advisees. I’ll have substantial discussions with a few of my advisees, but not all of them. I did try to have substantial discussions with most of them when they declared their major and, in most cases, their schedule for each semester is relatively close to what we decided on in putting together their four-year plan.

[5] Yes, things come up. Sometimes the computer system gets confused about prerequisites. That requires a note to the Registrar’s office.

[6] No, the best ones don’t necessarily have two majors. It just provides a useful context.

[7] Three four-credit courses or two four-credit courses and two two-credit courses. Maybe one four-credit course and four two-credit courses.

[8] I separate out the arts and non-’Murcan languages.

[9] Keep links consistent does not seem to be one of the strategies employed in our many Web sites. So I expect this link will break over the next few months. If it doesn’t work, go to and click on Education in the Liberal Arts. When that site changes, as it well, try searching the Web for Grinnell and Elements of a Liberal Education.

[10] Feel free to send along your own.

Version 1.0 released late 2017.

Version 1.0.1 of 2019-11-17.

Version 1.0 of 2017