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Post-Preregistration for Fall 2021: The Effects of CCB (#1141)

Topics/tags: Registration, Grinnell, assorted data, rambly

In which we continue our exploration of the wonders of registration at Grinnell.

For those not familiar with the registration process at Grinnell (or at least the registration process for returning students), it’s a bit different than what you see at most institutions. Rather than relying on first-come, first-served, as some institutions do, or on prioritization by class year, as others do, Grinnell uses a more complicated, but ultimately fairer system.

Students first preregister for classes. During the preregistration period, we allow classes to enroll beyond their capacity. In effect, preregistration permits students to declare an interest in a class but does not guarantee them a seat in the class. There’s been a movement to call this period open registration; I’m not sure what the rationale is for the name change.

In any case, after preregistration, faculty members and department chairs (who are also faculty members) look at their enrollments and make changes to the schedule. When courses are over-enrolled, we look for ways to handle that over-enrollment. Strategies include switching students to another class (Balancing), removing a subset of the class, perhaps randomly, perhaps with a prioritization system (Cutting), or finding a way to add another section, perhaps by cutting another class, perhaps by finding another faculty member to teach the class [1] and negotiating with the Dean to pay for that extra class. We also close classes that are full (or, in some cases, nearly full). We call that process, Cut, Close, and Balance. I tend to refer to it as CCB.

Preregistration finished on Friday, April 23rd. Our Cut, Close, and Balances (or policies for cuts, closes, and balances) were due to the the Registrar’s office on Friday, April 30th. I took a look on the morning of Tuesday, May 4, and it looked like I believe the amazing staff of Registrar’s office was still frantically working on them. Or at least I still saw some over-enrolled courses.

I’m sad. My muse thought I should write about the topic today [2]. Oh well. At least I started.

Time passes.

And passes.

Now that the process is done, I can see what’s happened. I expect that my comments will at least partially mirror what I wrote at the end of preregistration

Computer science

You may recall that we had too few slots left in CSC-151, Functional Problem Solving, to accommodate the expected demand from incoming students. We had to cut. We ended up cutting anyone in their third or fourth years [3]. I don’t like doing that, but second-years should have priority. Perhaps the incoming first-year students won’t claim the slots. Perhaps we’ll have some spring slots; we usually do. In any case, we have 44 slots available across the three sections, which suggests we left 28 students enrolled, slightly more than our target of 24.

The two sections of CSC-161, Imperative Problem Solving, are balanced, with three total slots remaining. The two sections of CSC-207, Object-Oriented Problem Solving, Data Structures, and Algorithms, are also balanced, but with only one slot remaining. I wonder how many of those students will become CS majors? I think that historically, about 2/3 of the students who take CSC-207 become CS majors.

There are still two slots left in CSC-213-02, Operating Systems, and three left in CSC-301-02, Analysis of Algorithms. Those are the only slots left in our upper-level required courses for the major [4]. Since we had to cut a lot of students from CSC-324, Software Design and Development, and CSC-341, Automata, Formal Languages, and Computational Complexity [5]. For the first time in my memory, we had to cut seniors from the latter two courses. It makes me sad. But we’ll have two sections of CSC-341 in the spring and two of CSC-324, so seniors will be able to graduate with their CS majors.

I’ll say that it took about an hour in a department meeting to agree upon general policies for cuts as well as some more discussions to firm up some concerns (e.g., majors going abroad or trying to graduate in seven semesters; students in other majors counting on CS courses as part of those majors). Then Jerod spent a few hours working everything out. I’m so appreciative of that work; I don’t think I could have handled the stress of cutting students nor of the follow-up emails that he likely received.

Other significantly over-enrolled courses

CLS-255-01, History of Ancient Greece, remains over-enrolled by two students, rather than fourteen. I wonder why Monessa Cummins [6] didn’t cut the last two. In contrast, ENV-145-01, Nations and the Global Environment, Carolyn Lewis cut fifty! students from HIS-195, ST: Comparative Herbalism. I assume that was a random cut. Abram Lewis followed the same model as MC and kept seventeen in GWS-395, rather than cutting to its cap of fifteen. I wonder what leads folks to make those decisions. I suppose it’s something like keep all the seniors.

GWS may just be particularly generous. GWS-195-01, ST: Sexwork in the City, is now over-enrolled by four, down from an over-enrollment of fourteen. GWS-295-01, remains over-enrolled by three.

The alphabetical list

I’m not sure that there’s a lot interesting here, but I’ll give it a try.

ANT-210, Illness, Healing, and Culture. This course had been over-enrolled by thirty students. Now there’s a second section. It looks like they were able to serve sixteen students in the second section; not everyone can switch to a new time. I assume a few others will rearrange their schedule to enroll in the second section. How did they free a section? It looks like they canceled a section of ANT-104. It looks like there are still 37 slots in ANT-104 for incoming first-year students.

Three sections of ART-111, Introduction to the Studio, had been over-enrolled by twenty-seven students with four slots in the fourth section. There are now thirteen available slots for incoming first-years across the four sections. I assume Studio Art followed a policy somewhat like CS, cutting some students to make room for first-years. As I’ve said before, we need more sections of Studio Art, which means we need more Studio faculty. I guess we’ve added one [7], but their work is in film, and they are building our film and media studies program.

On the subject of Studio Art, it looks like ART-236, Print Media, and ART-242, Sculpture, have been cut to capacity. ART-238, Painting, ART-255, Fundamentals of Video Production, and ART-315, Adv Studio: Contemporary Practices, all are slightly over-enrolled.

BIO-251, Molecules, Cells, and Organisms [8] was severely imbalanced. It looks like it’s much more balanced. One section is over-enrolled by one, but that’s not bad.

The 300-level Bio classes remain over-enrolled but less so. I wonder how Bio decides who to cut. In any case, BIO-325, Fungal Biology, has 14/12, BIO-343, Comparative Vertebrate Morphology, has 16/12, BIO-365, Microbiology, has 14/12, BIO-368, Ecology, has 14/12, and BIO-380, Molecular Biology, has 22.

Like its friend BIO-251, CHM-221, Organic Chemistry I, has been balanced. It looks like the balancing wasn’t perfect. One section remains over-enrolled by three students and another by six. There are three slots open in section 2; perhaps 10:00 a.m. MWF is a bad time.

On the subject of Chemistry, CHM-363, Physical Chemistry I, is now over-enrolled by six students. But they’ve added a third section of lab. The three labs have room for six more students. I wonder why they didn’t over-enroll by twelve. Well, there is the issue that it’s horrible to have a class of thirty-six students. But is thirty-six that much different than thirty? I’m not sure.

EDU-101 appears to have been balanced. I wonder if one person got cut in the balancing. That’s what my prior count was. I’d hate to make the decision to cut just one person.

Hmmm … How did I miss the over-enrolled English courses last time through? Twenty-two students got cut from ENG-205, The Craft of Fiction. Ouch. Another six got cut from ENG-206, The Craft of Poetry. Five were cut from ENG-337, The British Novel I. It looks like there’s room in other 300-level English classes for those students.

History had a lot of cutting to do. HIS-266-01, History of the Modern Middle East, is down to its cap of 25. HIS-284-01, Surveillance Modern History, is still three over its cap, at 28. That’s better than 45! I wonder if History surveilled students to decide who should be kept in the course.

MAT-316, Foundations of Analysis, went from one over-enrolled section of thirty-two to two reasonable sections of sixteen. How did they make room for an extra section? Let’s see if I can figure it out. One section of MAT-133, Calculus II was canceled. Royce Wolf was teaching that section. Royce is now teaching one of the two sections of MAT-131, Calculus I, which frees Mark Chamberland to teach two sections of Analysis. That wasn’t so complicated. But it does mean that Royce has three different preps. While I know that Royce has taught all three courses many times, that still doesn’t seem all that fair.

PCS-101-01, Introduction to Peace and Conflict Studies, had been over-enrolled by twenty-seven students [9]. Now there are four slots available, presumably for first-year students [10]. I wonder what policies got used for cutting.

PHI-111, Introduction to Philosophy, had been over-enrolled by six students between the two sections. There are now eight slots available between the two sections. That’s not a lot for the incoming first-year students. Once again, I wonder what categories got cut.

Peter Hanson’s over-enrolled Political Sciences courses are now at capacity. Let’s hope those students can find other courses of interest.

PSY-246, Brain and Behavior [11], is at capacity.

SOC-240, Social Movements, is now overenrolled by only one, rather than ten. My mind recalled SOC-295-02, American Paganisms, as also being over-enrolled, but it was not.

Slightly over-enrolled courses

It looks like a variety of folks allowed a few extra students to stay in their classes. Here’s the list.

  • ANT-221-01, Primate Behavior and Taxonomy [12], is at 22/20.
  • ANT/SOC-291-01, Methods of Empirical Investigation [14], is at 19/18. The vast majority of those students seem to be enrolled in SOC-291.
  • CHM-210-01, Inorganic and Analytical Chemistry is at 27/24.
  • EAS-195-01, EAS Gateway Food East Asia is still at 26/25. And I still think our new Associate Dean shouldn’t be teaching in a year in which there will be a lot of hiring. Is it any wonder that 1/3 of our high-level administrators feel overworked?
  • MAT-321-01, Foundations of Abstract Algebra, remains over-enrolled by two students. I’m surprised that Math didn’t ask two of the students to switch to the newly-opened slots in MAT-316.
  • NRS-495-01, Neuroscience Seminar, is at 16/15.
  • PHI-257-01, Philosophy of Science, is at 24/22. I’m a bit surprised because I have it listed as 23/22 toward the end of prereg [15]
  • POL-352-01, US Foreign Policymaking Process, is at 19/15.
  • PSY-225-01, Research Methods, is at 28/25. I assume Psych can’t easily cut students from the methods course.

Other notes

I hadn’t realized it before, but it doesn’t look like Anthropology has any 300-level classes this fall. I wonder why not. I suppose Anthro has a different approach to 300-level classes than we do. Sociology has three 300-level courses, but two of them are special topics. Now I want to look at how departments distribute course numbers. But that’s a musing for another day.

I suppose I should also see how my advisees fared. A few of them have checked for themselves and sent me notes. But not everyone is as responsible as those few. That’s what’s up next.

Or maybe I should edit this musing. Nah. It’s good enough.


[1] Departments with split positions and departments with

[2] At the time I wrote that, today was May 4.

[3] That is, who will be in their third or fourth years in the fall.

[4] I realize that CSC-207 is numbered at the 200 level. However, we think of it as part of the introductory sequence while we think of CSC-211 and CSC-213 as upper-level courses. Go figure.

[5] Three great things that go great together.

[6] I think of her as Monessa, but that doesn’t seem appropriate here.

[7] N. Tavares.

[8] Or Molcls, Cells, & Orgnsm w/lab, as it appears in the listing.

[9] I’m not sure how I missed that last time.

[10] We’re told we’re not allowed to cut below capacity. I think there’s an exception to make room for incoming first-year students.

[11] Perhaps Brain and Behaviour, if you’re in the UK.

[12] It’s Taxonmy in the list of courses. That may be to fit the character limit. If it were me, I would have written & Taxonomy used "

[14] Methods is Meth on the list of courses. Perhaps the course does empirical investigation of methamphetamine.

[15] 10:36 p.m. on the last day of registration.


Version 1.0 of 2021-05-10 .