Pre-registration for Spring 2017

In what has become a tradition, I report on pre-registration for next semester. The highlights:

  • Enrollments blew up at the 200-level.
  • Enrollments in CS 167 and two out of three 300-level courses are strong but not overwhelming.
  • Enrollments in Algorithms are underwhelming, but we’re not worried about it.

At the end of October, we hosted a group advising session and a visit from colleagues at AIT-Budapest (which, though it is not yet listed, is now an approved off-campus study program for Whitman Students). The former was attended by 10 students and the latter by 7, which did not suggest tremendous interest in computer science. However, I had a steady stream of students coming to ask questions about course offerings and planning for the major and minor. One of my students and I counted out a dozen sophomores who we thought were likely CS majors—a manageable number.

Seniors pre-registered last Thursday, November 3. On Friday morning, my colleague John Stratton checked his roster for CS 270, Data Structures, and found 12 seniors. We had meant to save only 4 seats for seniors. He learned that the database had had two copies of CS 270 for this spring. The Registrar’s office knew they had to put class year reservations on one copy and delete one copy, and somehow managed to apply both operations to the same copy, so we had no seat reservations. After a quick consultation, John asked the Registrar to reserve all remaining seats for first and second year students, to ensure they would be able to make progress on the forthcoming major.

Through overhearing discussions amongst my CS 167 students and then checking the course schedule, we learned that offering CS 270 at 9 a.m. put it up against most second-year language courses, as well as other problematic conflicts. We decided it was too late to do anything about it this spring, but we’ll revisit the course schedule for next year.

After second-year students pre-registered on Monday, November 7, there were two seats left in CS 270 and none in CS 210, Computer Systems Fundamentals. John was willing to slightly overenroll CS 270—we already planned to raise the cap from 20 to 24 for next year—but we weren’t sure what to expect.

We got a deluge: A total waiting list of 21 for CS 270 and 13 for CS 210.

Fortunately, Albert Schueller had already told us that his upper level math course would be cancelled, and he might be available to teach computer science. Among all the waiting lists in the department, the list for CS 270 was the longest. We asked students who wanted to take the course to add themselves to the waiting list, if they hadn’t already.

Yesterday afternoon, Albert contacted the Registrar to cancel the other course and add a section of CS 270. It filled within hours, before I could even tell my CS 167 students. John and Albert are sorting out the remaining students on the waiting list, and it looks like they will be able to accommodate everyone.

Fortunately, several students dropped CS 210 to add CS 270. John won’t be able to accommodate everyone who wants to take CS 210, but I believe he managed to fit in everyone who has already taken CS 270 or has a schedule conflict with CS 270.

Why did this happen? What are the implications?

Clearly, we didn’t expect 12 seniors to sign up for CS 270. Perhaps we should have expected it, due to the overwhelming number of seniors enrolled in CS 167 this fall. It may be pent-up demand from students who weren’t able to study CS earlier in their careers, as I hypothesized before. But John observed that the seniors are mostly science majors, who may have been advised that learning to program will make them more competitive for jobs or grad school. I am no longer as convinced this is a one-time bubble. The real test will be senior interest in CS 167 this fall.

But we will have a total of 48 students enrolled in CS 270 this fall. Another 6 are juniors, 11 are sophomores, and 18 are first-year students. Thus, first-year students would fill most of a section of CS 270 all by themselves. I just put forward a curricular proposal indicating that 4 sections of CS 167 and 2 sections of CS 270 each year would suffice. I expected we would outgrow those 6 sections eventually, but now I’m uncertain that will be true even in the immediate future.

I’ll add that the 11 sophomores enrolled in CS 270 do not represent all our potential majors from that class year. Many sophomores have taken CS 270 already, and some have taken 210 as well. CS 210 is populated by 4 seniors, 8 juniors, 8 sophomores, and 2 first-years, in contrast to last spring when seniors were the majority.

Another implication of adding an extra courses is that our main teaching lab, Olin 124, will be full of classes each MWF from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. (with a break for lunch at noon). We cannot offer more large lab course sections unless we shift 3-credit courses to TTh, or build another lab comparable to Olin 124.  With the concurrent increase in Statistics offerings, borrowing the Math Lab is not a viable option.

So what about other courses?

  • At the 100-level, all is well. Both sections are nearly full, my 8 a.m. at 27/30 and Andy’s 10 a.m. at 29/30. That’s how I like it. I’m pleased that my section includes 10 women and looks like a diverse group overall.
  • My 300-level Software Design course is at 15/20, also a good size. I worry that there are only three women, but I’ve coped with that before.
  • Andy’s Natural Language Processing is full at 16/16.
  • Enrollments in John’s Algorithm Design and Analysis are weak at only 3. How did that happen? A few current sophomores who are ready already took the course as first-years last spring, which won’t be possible in the future due to new prerequisites. We scheduled the course at 8 a.m., which was probably a mistake. John thoroughly investigated the possibility of moving it and concluded the risk wasn’t worth the potential reward. We did not seriously consider canceling the course as we want seniors to have the opportunity to take it, even though it doesn’t yet fulfill a major requirement. Looking forward to next year, I worry about high demand more than low demand, and I am not too worried about that. (On the bright side, I believe in this class the women will outnumber the men, a first for Whitman CS!)


And in the world beyond pre-registration? This has been a lousy week for grading. I spent Monday night lying on the couch with a book, as I wasn’t feeling well. I spent Tuesday night alternately refreshing enrollment status and election returns, which was not healthy. Last night was for drinking by the fire. I have a paper deadline next week and after spending some quality time with it this morning, I think it will be ready to submit. So I guess I’m caught up on administration and research, and behind on grading.

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