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Preregistration for fall 2018

Topics/tags: Registration, Grinnell

For some reason, I find myself compelled to look at enrollment numbers at the end of each preregistration period. You can read a bit more about Grinnell’s interesting approach to preregistration in my comments on preregistration for spring 2017 and my comments on preregistration for fall 2017 [1]. In short: Although courses have listed caps, we allow students to register for the courses even after the cap is filled and we do not distinguish between students who enroll early and those who enroll late. After all the students preregister [2], we figure out who to cut to get courses down to the appropriate size. I know that it’s not an ideal system. For example, it likely prioritizes students who have the know-how or social capital to contact faculty and say I realize that your class is likely to be over-enrolled; here are reasons I hope that you will keep me in the class. It also prioritizes students who know how to play the system [3]. But it’s the system we have.

Where was I?

Oh, that’s right. At the end of each preregistration period, I like to see where numbers stand. It gives me a better sense of what I should talk to my advisees about in the future [4]. It also feeds my general desire for exploring data. Of course, preregistration for the fall is hard because the incoming students have not yet registered for courses.

So, let’s see what patterns we can identify in the preregistration data. You can look at the current registration data if you’d like. I’m looking at the data as of Friday, 27 April 2018.

We’ll start with over-enrolled courses.

  • Katya Gibel Mevorach has 18 students in American Studies 305, Cultural Politics of Fashion, which is capped at 15. If I recall correctly, that course usually over-enrolls [5]. I’m not sure whether Katya will keep all 18 or cut. Interestingly, American Studies 245, which Katya is also teaching, is under-enrolled. Does time have something to do with it? Cultural Politics of Fashion is in the odd slot of 7:00 p.m. to 9:50 p.m. on Monday nights. American Studies 245 is 1:00 p.m. to 3:50 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday, which makes it a six-hour-per-week course.
  • Tess Kultad’s Anthropology Special Topic on Health, Inequality, and Social Justice is over-enrolled by 9. I would expect that to be a particularly popular topic.
  • Section 2 of Art 111, Introduction to the Studio is over-enrolled by six. I assume that they will cut some of those and switch some to the other section, which has two slots. But will they drop more to leave some room for first-year students? Will some students naturally migrate to the not-yet-announced 100-level course on filmmaking?
  • Art 134, Drawing, is over-enrolled by twenty-two students. That’s more than a full section. I wonder if the department will find a way to offer a second section.
  • Section 1 of the lab for Introduction to Biological Chemistry is over-enrolled by 2 students. But there is room in the other lab section. I assume they’ll balance that if they can. Unfortunately, lab section 2 is Friday 1:00-3:50 which is both an unpopular time for students and a time that conflicts with many MWF afternoon classes.
  • Section 1 of Biology 251, Molecules, Cells, and Organisms is over-enrolled by 5, section 3 is over-enrolled by 4, and section 5 is over-enrolled by 2. There are 3 slots available in section 2 and 10 in section 4. They should be able to shuffle those and keep everyone in the course.
  • There are a few courses that are over-enrolled by 1. I’m not going to mention those.
  • Biology 380, Molecular Biology is over-enrolled by eight students. If I recall correctly, that’s a hard class to expand because it includes lab time. Will students switch to another 300-level class? I’m not sure.
  • Section 2 of Chemistry 221, Organic Chemistry I is over-enrolled by 17 students and section 3 is over-enrolled by 20. There are nine slots left between the other two sections. That leaves, um, 28 students unaccounted for. Will Chemistry add another lecture section or just a few more labs? I’m not sure [6]. Why so much demand for Organic Chemistry? I assume that’s associated with our large number of Biological Chemistry majors.
  • The one section of Physical Chemistry I is over-enrolled by nine students. Will they keep those students? If so, they’ll need to add another lab section. And there’s only one section of PChemI in the spring, so they may need to let it be a bit larger.
  • Monessa Cummins’ Classics/History 257, The Roman Republic is over-enrolled by 12 students. That’s usually where Monessa’s classes stand. Few faculty are better at teaching writing than Monessa. There are also many other things that make her stand out as a faculty member.
  • Section 2 of Computer Science 207, Object-Oriented Problem Solving, Data Structures, and Algorithms is over-enrolled by 11. We have nine slots available in section 1. I’m guessing that we’ll allow each to over-enroll slightly. But students who did not preregister probably won’t be able to get in.
  • Section 1 of CSC 211, Computing Organization and Architecture is over-enrolled by nine. But there are ten slots in section 2. We should be able to balance those. I do worry what will happen with the one section of CSC 213 in the spring.
  • CSC 324, Software Design and Development is over-enrolled by six students. We’ll need to figure out how many of those we can keep; the structure of the class makes it hard to keep that many.
  • Economics/Policy Studies 220, Foundations of Policy Analysis is over-enrolled by five. I don’t know how Econ and Policy Studies cut students, but I expect that they will cut some [7].
  • Economics 240, Resource and Environmental Economics, is over-enrolled by fourteen students. I feel like that’s a common occurrence, but I don’t see a note to that effect in my past musings. I wonder if it wasn’t offered last year.
  • Section 2 of Economics 282, Macroeconomic Analysis_ is over-enrolled by five students. But there are twelve slots available in section 1. I assume that Econ can balance those two sections.
  • Unsurprisingly, Economics 327, Corporate Finance is over-enrolled by twelve students. Why is that not surprising? because Economics is a popular major, because Finance is a popular topic, and because it wasn’t offered this year [8]. I know that many of my dual CS/Econ majors were looking forward to it.
  • English 206, The Craft of Poetry, is over-enrolled by eleven students. Who wouldn’t want to study poetry with the legendary Ralph Savarese? I expect that English will have an interesting challenge in that Ralph’s English 207, The Craft of Creative Nonfiction, has nine slots. Will they still offer that class and encourage the prospective poets to switch, or will they ask Ralph to switch topics? If it were me, I’d keep Craft of Creative Nonfiction.
  • English 224, Traditions of English Literature II is over-enrolled by four students. I assume that some of the students in that course will have to find another course.
  • English 310, Studies in Shakespeare, is over-enrolled by eight students. That’s a challenge to deal with since it’s an upper-level seminar that students likely need and it’s not something that others can teach. So, even though English 360, Seminar in Postcolonial Literature, is under-enrolled, there’s not really a magic switch that can happen, or at least I assume that there’s not.
  • Global Development Studies 320, Applied Policy Analysis is over-enrolled by three. What will Monty do? I assume that it will depend, a bit, on whether the students are policy studies concentrators.
  • History 222, Women in American History is over-enrolled by seven. History 223, Health and Medicine in American History is over-enrolled by six. Carolyn will need to cut those two courses down to their caps if she is to survive the semester.
  • Section 1 of Mathematics 215, Linear Algebra, is over-enrolled by fifteen students. There are only nine slots available in section 2. That’s going to be a hard class to cut, as most students need it for their Mathematics major or their Computer Science major [9]. The course is now in that weird zone in which there don’t feel like quite enough students to offer another section, yet it’s more than you can really support in the current sections. Nonetheless, two over-enrolled sections is a lot. I feel sorry for my student who was hoping to add the course late.
  • Mathematics 321, Foundations of Abstract Algebra, is over-enrolled by four students.
  • Music 120-01, Performance: Violin is over-enrolled by four students. But Nancy Gaub normally takes only two students. I see that there are slots with the other violin teachers.
  • Music 120-02, Performance: Voice is over-enrolled by six students. Lisa Henderson normally takes twenty-two students. Music 120-13, Performance: Voice, is over-enrolled by nine students. Nicholas Miguel normally takes only ten. There are some slots in Suzanne Lommler’s voice section and in a section with an unknown instructor [10]. It looks like Henderson has a few slots in the Performance: Advanced Voice, so perhaps she’ll switch around. Or maybe the advanced sections are mis-capped, since the caps all seem to be twenty.
  • Section 1 of the Modern Physics Lab is over-enrolled by three. But there are enough slots in the other two sections to make up for it.
  • Political Science 257, Nationalism, is over-enrolled by five. I assume a few students will be asked to switch to other Political Science classes.
  • Johanna Meehan’s Political Science special topics course on Reading Arendt is over-enrolled by six. It makes me feel good that so many students want to take that course. But I’m not sure how Johanna will deal with the issue.
  • Policy Studies 320, Applied Policy Analysis, is over-enrolled by three. That’s one of those courses that all concentrators need and that few people who are not concentrators are likely to take. I assume Doug will allow it to over-enroll by a bit, but I could be wrong.
  • Sociology 265, Sociology of Health and Illness is over-enrolled by fifteen. Are you seeing a pattern? Every course on health seems to over-enroll. That’s one of the reasons that the Technology Studies concentration is evolving into a concentration in Science, Health, and Society.
  • Sharon Quinsaat’s Sociology special topics on Mass Media and Society is over-enrolled by five.
  • Spanish 312, Women and Gender in Spanish Literature is over-enrolled by fifteen students. I wonder if they’ll relieve Mirzam of an introductory course to allow her to teach two sections. I think that’s what I’d try to do.
  • Section 1 of Social Studies 125, Introduction to Geographic Information Systems is over-enrolled by nine. Section 2 has 22 open slots. I’m pretty sure that section 1 meets for the first half of the semester and section 2 meets for the section half of the semester. Students should be able to switch.
  • Section 1 of Statistics 310, Statistical Modeling is over-enrolled by 14. Section 2 has eight slots available. Since both have the same instructor, this is another case in which you see a strong effect of class time. Section 1 is TuTh morning. Section 2 is TuTh afternoon. I expect that labs in science and seminars in other disciplines make the afternoon section less popular.

And there you have it. The most over-enrolled course at Grinnell is Studio Art 134, Drawing, which really needs another section. Other ones that I think will be difficult to accommodate include Linear Algebra, Studies in Shakespeare, Women and Gender in Spanish Literature, and Corporate Finance. I hope the College finds ways to offer extra sections of those courses [11]. In most other cases, students will likely be able to find appropriate alternatives if they are cut.

I’m somewhat comforted to see that there are three English classes that are over-enrolled and that three of the particularly high-demand courses are in the humanities. It suggests that a reasonable number of students still see value in core humanities topics. (I’d prefer that they were not over-enrolled. But it beats being under-enrolled.)

I haven’t been keeping close enough track of enrollments in the music performance courses. I hope that students are taking advantage of the free music lessons. But that’s a task for the Office of Analytic Support and Institutional Research.

I realize that over-enrolled by n is not necessarily the best way to talk about these issues. For example, it is somewhat different to have a class with a cap of 28 that is over-enrolled by four and a class of 12 that is over-enrolled by four. The percentage is higher in the latter case, but it may be more of a tipping point for pedagogy in the former case. Since I can’t find a good way to consider those issues, I haven’t listed caps; you can look them up yourself.

Which of my advisees should I now worry about or at least consider making plans with? The ones who want to take Finance. But their Economics advisors can help them with that issue. The ones who want to take Drawing. I already warned them that that course would over-enroll; I just didn’t realize it would be by quite that much. The one who really wanted Linear Algebra but could not pre-register. There’s not much I can do for them [12]. There are probably a few others but it appears that SelfService and WebAdvisor are down which makes it impossible to check [14].

I also have a few who want to take courses that limit enrollment for upper-level students. How are those classes doing? Linguistics 114 has six slots available. I assume that they will hold those for first-year students [15]. There are 52 slots available for Introduction to Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies. I assume that my students who want that can get in if they ask nicely.

What about under-enrolled courses? Many of them are designed for first-year students, so it’s not an issue in those cases. The others? I don’t think it’s my job to speculate. There may also be courses that need to cut students to permit room for first-year students. Again, I won’t speculate.

And those over-enrolled courses. What will happen? Who will be kept? Who will be cut? I don’t that access to that information. However, I may muse again in a week on what obvious things happened (e.g., which courses stayed over-enrolled, what new sections got added, etc.) Or I may not. We’ll see what my muse suggests.

I wish good luck to the students in those over-enrolled classes. I express sympathy to my colleagues who have to make hard decisions. I must admit that I’m glad that it’s a semester in which I don’t have to make those hard decisions [16]


[1] I mused briefly on the topic in the middle of preregistration for spring 2018. That was close to the time when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed and took a hiatus from musing. It appears I never wrote a followup.

[2] Or at least all of the students who manage to get stuff in order and remember to click the Register button.

[3] For example, if a student is interested in taking one of two courses that are both likely to close and three other courses, they can pick one of the three other courses that won’t over-enroll and leave it off their schedule. That allows them to preregister for both of the one of two courses. They are less likely to get cut from both and, if they do get cut from both, they are better able to ask for a spot back (I got cut from two classes that I was taking to broaden my education; can you find a way to allow me back into your class?)

[4] I also look at the numbers along the way. But enrollment patterns along the way are weird. For some reason, large numbers of students wait until the last day to preregister.

[5] My notes from last year suggest it was worse last year; that time, she was over-enrolled by ten.

[6] You think by this time I’d know what their normal process is. But I forget. I think they’ll have larger classes and just add a lab or two, but I could be wrong. It depends, in part, on what human resources are available to the department.

[7] I hear from some Policy Studies faculty that they try not to cut people from PST-220.

[8] Or at least I don’t think it was offered this year.

[9] Also for their Physics major. And I hear that Linear Algebra is also important for some Chemistry majors.

[10] Unknown to me as it’s listed as Staff. It could be that the Music department knows who it is and the system just doesn’t list them.

[11] It is, of course, not easy to add an extra section of a course. We don’t have spare faculty and we should not ask faculty to teach overloads. Hence, the normal approach is to find another course to cut. But cutting courses is hard. And it’s not as if faculty are interchangeable.

[12] They have already been in touch with the instructor.

[14] I suppose that I could call our outsourced-in-the-evening help-desk, but my general experience is that the folks I call have no knowledge of our systems and no ability to help. It’s not worth my time.

[15] If not, I’m pretty sure that I have six advisees who would claim them all.

[16] I’m particularly glad because the decision I make is usually one that’s bad for me: I’ll just take extra students. I’m not even sure that that decision is best for the students.


Version 1.0 released 2018-04-27.

Version 1.1.2 of 2019-11-17.