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Post-preregistration for fall 2020 (#1054)

Topics/tags: Registration, Grinnell, long, end-notable

Yes, it’s that time again, time for the long, rambly musing on registration that bores most readers, including the writer, but that one or two people have come to count on. Or is it the mid-registration musing that they count on? I never remember.

I started writing these musings in part, to help me advise. It’s good to know that the hot spots are and how they get resolved. It’s probably still good for those reasons. But I don’t feel like I remember to go back to them when advising. Oh well, the knowledge is probably hidden somewhere in my brain, if it’s not disrupted by knowledge of arcane pop tunes or something.

In any case, we have now finished preregistration, or early registration, or preliminary registration, or just registration, whatever we’ve decided to call it right now. I’m going to continue calling it preregistration or prereg because I’m old and not particularly good at accepting changes to language or names or whatever. But I’m going to think of prereg as shorthand for preliminary registration since that’s what the period is for.

This year’s prereg period is different than most prereg periods for the fall because we’ve allowed (asked?) students who are planning to be abroad in the fall to also register for Grinnell classes. After all, we don’t know what the fall will bring. The extra 120 or so students are likely to affect the number a bit; if I count right, it’s about a 10% increase in the number of returning students [1].

I traditionally write about Cuts, Closes, and Balances (CCB [2]) as part of this musing, but it feels a bit strange to do so this year because the CCB process should be on hold right now. After all, it’s a total waste of time to rearrange classes when so many things are up in the air. Will we be on campus or remote? Will all of these students be in Grinnell classes? There’s a (slim) chance that some will be abroad. There’s a (not as slim) chance that some will decide not to enroll in classes. Will we be changing the classes we offer because of other factors? Why spend the immense work that some departments or courses require when it’s likely to need redoing [5]? So, I may mention CCB issues but they will likely take less precedence.

Here goes. All data are taken from my personal snapshot of the Fall 2020 list of course offerings [8].

For a change, let’s start with some of the most over-enrolled courses [9]. Do you want to guess what they are?

Let’s start with some in the high teens. My decision on where to start was fairly arbitrary. I suppose I could have put things in a spreadsheet and then sorted, but that seemed like too much work.

  • Section 4 of ART-111, Introduction to the Studio, is over-enrolled by 17 students, for a total of 32 students.
    Fortunately, there are some slots for those students to move to, six open slots in section 2, and five open slots in section 3. Of course, section 1 is over-enrolled by ten students, so it’s not all that easy. But it’s better than I’ve seen Studio Art look in years. Of course, this may the first time they’ve been able to start with four sections of ART-111 and two of ART-134, Drawing.
  • Section 1 of BIO-380, _Molecular Biology w/lab, is over-enrolled by 19 students, for a total of 31 students. Molecular Biology always over-enrolls, but this seems worse than normal. Almost all of the 300-level Bio courses are at or near capacity, and one other is also over-enrolled by thirteen students: BIO-365, Microbiology w/lab. I do not envy Bio the work of adjusting.

On to the twenties.

  • Section 1 of PHY-132, General Physics II w/lab, is over-enrolled by twenty students, for a total enrollment of forty-four. You might think to yourself It’s Physics. Don’t they just do a huge lecture? No! This section is the legendary workshop physics, one of the more extreme versions of active learning. You think flipped classrooms are active? Those at least involve some work before class. In workshop physics, students learn through experimentation [10]. Or at least that’s what I understand. In any case, I’m surprised that Physics isn’t offering two sections. I hope another one is planned.
  • CLS-258, The Roman Empire, is over-enrolled by twenty students, for a total of forty-five students, even though it meets at 8:00 a.m. Of course, it’s an MC Cummins course, so this kind of enrollment is to be expected. This semester feels like the first one in a long time for which I didn’t need to advocate to MC to keep one of my advisees in her class. Fortunately, MC seems to have had a good experience with my advisees (and my advisees have had great experiences in her courses).
  • Section 2 of ENG-205, The Craft of Fiction, is also over-enrolled by twenty students, for a total of thirty-five. It’s predictable that CoF [11] over-enrolls. The question is how much. Since English does not seem to be offering The Craft of Poetry, The Craft of Creative Nonfiction, or even The Craft of Argument, I would have expected to see it more over-enrolled. On a separate note, I see that Garth Greenwell is teaching section 1 (also over-enrolled). I enjoyed meeting him at the Writers at Grinnell session this spring and think students will be fortunate to learn from him. How can English deal with the enrollments in CoF? Perhaps with a fee [12].
  • Section 4 of CHM-221, Organic Chemistry I w/lab, is over-enrolled by twenty-one students, for a total of forty-five students. The other three sections balance out to having one open slot. It seems like Chemistry must decide whether to somehow add a fifth section, have all four sections over-enroll by 20%, cut about 20% of the interested students, or, perhaps, wait until things settle down. (Are you starting to understand my CCB concerns yet?) You’ll also hear a bit about another of the OChem labs a bit later.
  • The one section of CSC-301, Analysis of Algorithms [14], is also over-enrolled by twenty-one students, for a total of forty-one students. This situation represents another of my CCB concerns. Some of the students can probably take it in the spring, when we offer two sections of CSC 301. But that means we have to figure out which ones can take another CS course and what that course would be. I also wonder, over the long term, whether we might want to do two sections of 301 in the fall and two of 341 in the spring. We need three of each per year, but student preference seems to be to take 301 in the fall [15].
  • ECN-286, Econometrics, is over-enrolled by twenty-six students. It looks like ’metrics has the same model as CSC-301, one section in the fall and two in the spring. So the department could probably boot some out and expect them to take it in the spring. But who? Of course, it’s Economics. They probably have accurate models in place.
  • SOC-235, Mass Media and Society, is over-enrolled by twenty-eight students, for a total of fifty. There are usually a few SOC courses that are over-enrolled, but not often by that much. If this were a normal year and I were in charge of the Sociology department, I might consider canceling one intro section, having that person teach SOC-291, Methods of Empirical Investigation, and begging Sharon Quinsaat to teach two sections of SOC-235. Fortunately, neither of the preconditions for that suggestion hold.

On to the thirties. Will there be classes over-enrolled by forty or more students? We shall see.

  • Section 94 of MUS-120, Performance: Voice, is over-enrolled by thirty students, for a total of fifty-two. This case is one in which the over-enrollment is a bit fictitious. These students are going to be distributed amongst a variety of voice teachers, and there should be enough room.
  • You will not be surprised to hear that ENG-121, Introduction to Shakespeare, is also over-enrolled by thirty students, for a total enrollment of fifty. I suppose it would be a bad idea for John Garrison to teach five sections of ENG-121 a year. But I’m also pretty sure that they would all fill. I wonder what English will do when CCB time rolls around. Do they try to leave any slots for first-year students? Do they drop any non-seniors [16]? Do we have to leave room for the Trustees who like to attend? Maybe if John required students to do a world tour of Shakespearean venues during fall break, he’d get enough to drop out of fear.
  • SMS-195, Introduction to Science, Medicine, and Technology Studies, is over-enrolled by thirty-three students, for a total of fifty-eight students. Congratulations to Michael Guenther and the rest of the new Short Message Service [17] concentration for a successful launch! Maybe the College will cough up the cash for Mike to teach an extra section [18,19].
  • Section 3 of CHM-221L, Organic Chemistry I Lab, is over-enrolled by thirty-five students, for a total enrollment of
    1. Fortunately, if students can be balanced between all six sections of CHM-221L, there is exactly enough room. Fingers crossed!
  • ENV/GDS-261, Climate Change, Development, & the Environment is over-enrolled by thirty-six students, for a total of sixty students! I have no idea what you do about that. Maybe you just keep the deniers and the Trump supporters, since they have the most to learn. I don’t expect we’d have twenty-four in those two categories at Grinnell, but you never know.
  • HIS-195, Comparative Herbal Medicine, is over-enrolled by thirty-eight students, for a total enrollment of fifty students. It always seems like there’s some Monday night course that gets over-enrolled, but I think this is a record. Congratulations Carolyn Herbst Lewis! (Or should I be expressing sympathy?) Hmmm … it’s only a half-semester course, so Carolyn could offer another half-semester version of it. But all of her courses over-enroll, so where would the extra teaching come from? And that would still leave two more sections worth of students to cover. Is it time for Grinnell to add Wednesday night classes, too? [20]

Is there one in the forties? Yes! But I missed it the first time I skimmed through the list [21].

  • Section 2 of BIO-251, Molecules, Cells, and Organisms w/Lab is over-enrolled by a whopping forty students, for a total enrollment of sixty-four [22]. Fortunately, there are thirty-six slots open in the other three sections. However, It will be a lot of work for the Registrar’s office staff to shift students around. What happens if, say, we go online? I’m pretty sure that some of the labs will become asynchronous. So perhaps it’s better to wait. Why is this section the most over-enrolled? That’s a difficult question. It’s not the instructor; all of them are listed as staff. Section 1 meets at 8:00 a.m. MWF, which is among the least popular times for students. Section 4 meets at 3:00 p.m. MWF, which is another challenger for the least popular time. Section 3 has Friday afternoon labs, which may be even less popular. I’m surprised they got thirteen students to sign up for that section.

What’s left? I don’t feel like looking at individual departments. I’m not sure any of you want to hear about them. I make it a policy not to comment on low-enrolled courses, other than to wonder, at times, why some awesome topics seem to have such low enrollment.

Oh! There’s always space to comment on CS. It is, after all, my department and I have a responsibility to think about it, even if I am not currently chair [23]. Let’s see …

  • We have forty-one open slots in CSC-151, Functional Problem Solving w/lab. That’s about what we want. We usually have to cut a bit to reach that point. Maybe we have room because we finally have the staffing to offer three sections each semester. Or maybe people are scared of the regular expressions I’ve added to the course.
  • The two sections of CSC-161, Imperative Problem Solving w/lab, are over-enrolled by five students. I expect we’ll allow all of those students to stay in the class, particularly since the over-enrollment is in Henry Walker’s section [24].
  • I’m happy to see that Computational linguistics has twenty-one students. That may be a new record.
  • Section 1 of CSC-207, Object-Oriented Problem Solving, Data Structures, and Algorithms [25] has seven open slots. Section 2 is over-enrolled by seven students. Let’s hope that the Registrar’s office can balance the two sections. That may be a CCB we can do now.
  • CSC-208, Discrete Structures, has fifteen students with room for five more. I’m interested to see that so many of our students are choosing the MAT 218, Topics in Discrete Mathematics, route.
  • The two sections of CSC-211, Computer Organization and Architecture w/lab, have twelve open slots. That’s more than I expected. That may be where we move some of the over-enrollment from Algorithms.
  • I am confused that CSC-261, Artificial Intelligence, has fourteen open slots. Are students not used to Tuesday-Thursday CS classes?
  • I have twelve slots open in my one-credit CSC-281, Learning from CS Alumni. Is that also a Thursday issue? Is it that it’s been so long since the course has been offered that students don’t know its value?
  • As I mentioned before, CSC-301, Analysis of Algorithms, is over-enrolled by twenty-one students. We’ll need to shift them somewhere, perhaps to CSC-211 or CSC-261, or to the other courses I describe later in this list.
  • The two sections of CSC 324, Software Design and Development w/Lab [26] are over-enrolled by nine students. We also have two students enrolled in CSC 326, Software Development Leadership w/Lab. I’ve forgotten exactly how we expect to balance 324 and 326, which meet at the same time in the same classroom [27]. I think our goal was to have twenty total, which is four five-person project groups. If I count correctly, we just need to move three people from the morning section to either CSC-211, CSC-324, CSC-341, or CSC-395.
  • Between the two sections of CSC-341, Automata, Formal Languages, and Computational Complexity, we have thirteen open slots. That’s enough that we need both sections, but it would be nice to have them more full.
  • Seven people are enrolled in CSC-395, Network and Matrix Computations. That’s a bit less than I’d like, but it seems appropriate for a 300-level special topics course with both CS and Math prerequisites. From what I’ve heard, I think it will be a great class.

Hmmm. This may be an easier semester to deal with than most. We’ll need to swap some folks from 207 to 341 or 211 or whatever. It will take a bit to figure out who can be moved, but it may be less work than I expected. At least we don’t have the traditional Who do we cut out of our 200-level classes? problem.

And there you have it. I’ve reflected on registration. I hope you are happy.

Postscript: Strangely enough, in the short window between when I finished musing and when I planned to post, I received a new message from Dean Harris. It appears that we are going to continue with the CCB process but will have an extra week to do so, until May 8. For reasons I described above, I think that’s the wrong decision. CCB should not happen until after we’ve decided what the fall model will be and made any of the necessary broader adjustments for that semester. But I’m not the one in power.

I feel particularly bad for my colleagues in the Registrar’s office, who will have to do much of the checking about which students can switch, and for my colleagues in Biology, who appear to have the most challenging cuts and balances to do.

I wonder if some of those super-enrolled faculty (or their departments) are going to try to negotiate for an extra course or two.

[1] Here’s the back-of-the-envelope (or at the bottom of the screen) calculation: We have a bit over 1700 students. There are a bit over 450 students in each entering class. That leaves 1300 or so 2nd-year, 3rd-year, and senior students. If 120 of those are normally abroad, we would have 1180 on campus. 120 is about 10% of 1180.

[2] Nope, not CCR [3] nor CCS [4].

[3] Creedence Clearwater Revival. If you haven’t heard of them, you should listen.

[4] Purveyors of a nonessential ditty called Tap Turns on the Water. It’s just one of the many pieces of trivia that clutter my brain.

[5] I’m still trying to parse yesterday’s message from Dean Harris [6].

**3) Reviewing Cut/Close/Balance Deadline *

We are fielding comments from some colleagues about the Cut/Close/Balance deadline and have created a sub-group of representatives from the faculty, the Registrar’s Office and ITS to examine current conditions and needs.

4) Next Academic Continuity Message

We will plan to communicate again on Thursday, April 30. The Academic Continuity group will meet next as a whole group on Wednesday, April 29.

The registration timeline [7] suggests that CCBs need to be done by May 1. I don’t know how the two dates relate.

[6] Since the message is available to the public at, I consider it reasonable to include the text here.

[7] Only available to readers with a GrinCo account.

[8] You may need to use a Grinnell account to access that page.

[9] Is that a change? I can’t tell.

[10] What happens if workshop physics moves online?

[11] Does anyone call it that?

[12] Did I need a content warning for the dad joke?

[14] We need to rename the course again. The course is primarily about the design and analysis of algorithms. It may even be about the literature, design, and analysis of algorithms.

[15] As an advisor, I recommend that students take 301 in the fall because it represents the subject matter that seems most relevant to internship and job interviews.

[16] This is, after all, perhaps their last opportunity to take the course.

[17] Science, Medicine, and Society.

[18] I apologize for the cough up the cash metaphor. It may be inappropriate for these times.

[19] Since Mike is in a shared contract (I think), the compensation for an additional course should be about 1/5 of the five-course shared contract salary.

[20] Sorry for the jokes, Carolyn.

[21] Maybe I should have put things in a spreadsheet.

[22] Will you still need me? Will you still feed me?

[23] Since I’ll be chair again this fall, I’ve started referring to myself as the Once and Future Chair.

[24] Henry is old-school. He seems inclined to take as many students as will fit in the classroom, even though it puts an extra burden on him. As a department, we’ve decided that reasonable caps (24 students) make sense for faculty wellness, particularly since most CS classes are at capacity.

[25] I will admit that I consider the last two topics the core of the course. Students learn the basics of OOP (objects, encapsulation, inheritance, parametric and subtype polymorphism), but I don’t think of that as all that is in modern object-oriented programming.

[26] Why is this Lab capitalized when the rest are not?

[27] We get no teaching credit for CSC 326.

Version 1.0 released 2020-04-24.

Version 1.0.1 of 2020-04-25.