Pre-registration results for Fall 2016

Gentle readers, last time I left you with a cliffhanger:

Will Whitman CS be overwhelmed by students in Fall 2016, underwhelmed, or both at the same time?

The answer is both—though not too badly in either direction. Here are the numbers as of the conclusion of pre-registration for rising second-year students:

Course # Title Meeting Time Seats Filled Waitlist Notes
CS 167 Intro to Computational Problem Solving MWThF 8-8:50 30 20 1 (1)
CS 167 Intro to Computational Problem Solving MWThF 10-10:50 30 19 11 (1)
CS/MATH 220 Discrete Math & Functional Programming MWF 11-11:50 24 22 3 (2)
CS 270 Data Structures MTWF 9-9:50 20 17   (2)
CS 317 Software Performance Optimization MWF 1-1:50 20 6 2 (3)
CS 401 Computer Systems Programming MWF 2:30-3:50 16 3 1 (3)
CS 402 Artificial Intelligence TTh 1:00-2:20 16 10    
  1. 10 seats reserved for first-years
  2. 2 seats reserved for first-years
  3. Consent required: No students met official pre-requisites

Rising second-year students pre-registered on Tuesday evening. I had foresightfully called a meeting with my new colleagues for Wednesday afternoon.

In a brief email conversation, we concluded we had two potential problems: Very low enrollment in Systems Programming and the combined waitlist of 12 for Intro.

Andy proposed three possible solutions to the low enrollments in Systems Programming:

  1. Accept small enrollments. Maybe we can convince more students to enroll.
  2. Cancel the course and replace it with another course in the spring.
  3. Cancel the course and replace it with another course in the fall, perhaps a third section of Intro.

John further pointed out that to build a thriving major, we need a lot of students to take Intro.

I asked Barry Balof (Curriculum Committee) and Jim Russo (Science Division Chair) for advice.  I wrote in support of option 2 or 3:

What I didn’t put together until late last week is that many (most?) of our students in 200 level classes this spring are graduating, which means they won’t be around to take upper level courses this fall. In the spring, we should have a much larger pool of returning students who have taken CS 167 and 270.

I would be happy to work with the three students enrolled in Systems Programming to either place them in another upper-level CS course (there’s plenty of space) or develop an independent study.

We have a total of 12 on the waitlists for intro, all rising juniors and seniors. Though I hope we can regularly accommodate demand for intro with four sections per year, offering an extra section next year might clear the pent-up demand. Alternatively, we could consider letting some or all of those students into the two existing sections of intro and risk pushing some first-year students from fall to spring or beyond (which was what happened this year).

Barry pointed out that we can’t predict the new student demand for Intro. (Registration for new students is not until the Saturday before classes start.) An extra section of Intro might do the most good for the most people.


We did indeed decide to add a third section of Intro, which Andy will teach in place of Systems Programming. Or to be more accurate, Andy will teach both morning sections of Intro, which are on the same weekly schedule, and I will teach the third section MWF 2:30-3:50. That way Andy doesn’t have to prepare for the same class meeting on two different schedules. It will be kind of a natural experiment to see how the course works in the two different formats.

Oddly, I’m the one used to the 50-minute meeting time; Andy is used to longer class meetings. Since we swapped meeting times, we each got the meeting time that the other prefers. But Andy will cope with 8 a.m., and I’ll cope with Friday afternoon.

Right after our meeting, I called and emailed Claire in the Registrar’s Office. She was able to make the change right away. I emailed the three students enrolled in Systems Programming to apologize and encourage them to talk with me about options. Andy emailed all the students in the existing Intro sections, whether enrolled or waitlisted, to encourage them to switch to the new section.

Thus far, there are three students enrolled in my Intro section. I’ll announce the new section to campus on Monday, after currently enrolled and waitlisted Intro students have had a chance to switch to the new section.

All in all, I’m pleased with our enrollments:

  • We filled two sections of Intro. There were no rising second-year students on the waiting list, which suggests that the two sections per semester I’ve budgeted should be sufficient to meet demand next year.
  • Data Structures nearly filled. We may allow the course to enroll beyond the cap of 20 to accommodate new students with advanced placement. But that seems fine.
  • There is a lot of interest in Discrete Math & Functional Programming. I have lots of experience teaching functional programming; no experience teaching discrete math. This is going to be exciting.
  • Between the two 200-level courses, I counted 13 rising second-years. This should be a good ballpark figure for the number of CS majors in the class of 2019. Not all of these students will go on to complete a major, but we should also gain a few students who take Intro in their second year.
  • There was respectable demand for two out of three upper-level courses. I am very optimistic that demand for Systems Programming will be higher in 2017-18, when more students will have the pre-requisites and, if all goes well, a few seniors will aim to graduate with the new CS major.

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