Pre-registration for Fall 2017

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

  • Major declarations are off to a strong start.
  • With the exception of Data Structures, our classes filled.
  • Two courses have long waiting lists, and one of them needs a response.

The numbers

Majors: 1110; Minors: 100

We have 14 declared majors and 4 declared minors. The binary was a student’s idea, not mine. I’ve been joking that it makes the numbers look much more impressive — though I actually think this is pretty impressive already for a new program.

Two of the minors are graduating next month, and two are graduating next year. That means the total number of minors doubled between 2016 and 2017! It doubled from 1 to 2, but that’s still an exciting trend. Whitman doesn’t require students to declare minors until their 7th semester, and I think we will see a few more minor declarations in the class of 2018. Perhaps the number of minors will double again, to 4.

Of the 14 declared majors, one is in the class of 2018, one is in the class of 2020, and the remaining 12 are in the class of 2019. We are expecting two more in the class of 2018. (One is studying abroad this term, and the other has been nagged repeatedly.) I’m also expecting at least a couple more in the class of 2018, so we will be approaching our planned capacity right at the start. So far, only two women have declared a CS major; I’m hoping for more next year.

Of the 14 declared majors, 9 declared with me, 3 with Andy, and 2 with John.

Here is a table summarizing our enrollments as of our department meeting yesterday:

Number Title Enrolled Women:Men Waitlist
CS 167-A,B  Intro. Computational Problem Solving 36/60 1:1 7
CS 200 ST: Simulation Methods & Applications 19/20 1:2 15
CS/Math 220 Discrete Math & Functional Programming 26/24 1:2 7
CS 270 Data Structures 14/24 1:2  
CS 310 Computer Systems Programming 22/20 1:4  
CS/Math 339 Operations Research 5 enrolled as a CS course 
CS 495 Capstone Project 4 1:3  

Interpretation and assessment

  • Our initial major declarations are pretty much what I expected, strong but not scary. I expected to have a heavier advising load than my colleagues this year, so that’s okay too. The four students in the capstone this fall include the first three majors in the class of 2018 and one individually-planned major, all expected.
  • We hit a sweet spot with CS 167. We filled the seats allocated to continuing students. The waiting list is not too long, and it’s not concentrated in any one class year. Last year I hypothesized that high demand from seniors might be pent-up demand rather than a long-term trend; it seems that hypothesis was correct.
  • John’s Simulation class filled with juniors and seniors, with few Math or CS majors but rather more science and social science majors. That’s what I thought would happen, but I did not realize the waiting list would be so long. I am excited to see so much demand.
  • Demand for CS/Math 220 is higher than we can sustain with the planned one section per year. Fortunately, I think it’s a bubble. Rising juniors did not know a year ago that it would be required for the CS major; several of them had the opportunity to take it last fall but chose not to. More significantly, due to the added section of CS 167 last fall and the added section of CS 270 this spring, we have a bubble of rising sophomores who are all in CS 270 right now. They can’t take 270 next fall because they are already taking it, and they can’t take Simulation because it filled, so 220 is the only 200-level course they can take.
  • In the wake of this bubble, CS 270 is underenrolled. There should be more sophomores who want to take CS 270, but they are already taking it now.
  • Andy allowed several students to enroll in CS 310 without the prerequisite of CS 210. A few are rising seniors who didn’t know to take 210 first or weren’t able to fit it in their schedules. Several are rising juniors or sophomores who did not have another CS course to take. This is a big contrast to last spring when only 3 students signed up for the class and we decided to drop it from the teaching schedule. That is exciting to see.
  • I’m thrilled that five students have a strong enough math background to take Operations Research and want to earn CS credit for it. To me, this confirms that cross-listing the course was worth doing.
  • I’m thrilled that gender is balanced in CS 167. I’ve long been disappointed that women often come to CS late and don’t take it until their junior or senior year, too late to choose CS as a major. The upside, I’m realizing, is that first-year women can come into CS 167 on the first day of class, look around, and see a room full of other women. I hope this helps them feel like they belong.
  • The gender ratio of 1:4 in CS 310 is comparable to what I’ve seen so far in other upper-level CS courses, such as Software Design this spring. I am encouraged that all of our 200-level classes have a ratio around 1:2, which is not parity but an improvement.


  • We are carefully admitting a few students off the waiting list for CS 167, focusing on rising juniors who need the course for a graduation requirement. I want to hold back at least 20 seats in total for new students.
  • John is carefully admitting a few more students into Simulation, including a few rising junior CS majors who need the course to avoid tripling up on CS during their senior year, and a few others who have a particularly strong interest. I hope we can regularize the course at some point. That may become part of a future position proposal.
  • I want a seat in CS 220 for every rising junior CS major who hasn’t taken it already, and for every rising sophomore prospective major who has already taken CS 270. I’m very grateful that my Math colleagues were willing and able to contribute a course to CS. Through a complicated swap involving four faculty, Albert will take one of my CS 167 sections in the spring so that I can teach an extra section of CS 220 this fall. I am currently polling students about the best time to schedule that new section. I am also hoping to hire a course mentor for this fall to take some of the pressure off of my office hours.
  • We are encouraging students who want to take CS 270 sooner or later to go ahead and sign up for this fall. They will get extra individual attention! Just since yesterday three more students have enrolled, for a total of 17.
  • After next year, we may revisit the prerequisite structure and the distribution of credits in the major. In particular, if we find we are routinely allowing students to take CS 310 without having taken CS 210, we may want to make CS 210 recommended rather than required for CS 310, and then we would want to explicitly include CS 210 in the major requirements.
  • Some CS colleagues (not at Whitman) have suggested we should not allow seniors to enroll in CS 167 to allow more space for first-year students who are potential majors. But seeing how the gender balance worked out for this fall makes me all the more committed to ensuring there is space for seniors in the class. It’s not just good for seniors to have one last chance to study CS in a classroom setting; it’s also good for first-year potential majors to see more diversity in the CS 167 classroom.

All in all, it’s been a stressful couple of weeks, but I think it’s going to be okay.

Next steps

The semester is winding down and there’s a lot to do before it ends:

  • Now that pre-registration is over, we are working on hiring class mentors and lab aides.
  • We need to choose dates for senior exams and talk with our rising seniors about how to prepare.
  • The CS/Math Banquet is coming up. For the second time at Whitman, I am soliciting participants for the Pledge of the Computing Professional.
  • I have exams to grade for both my classes. And students in both classes are planning their final projects, which they have been building towards all semester.
  • I have two funding proposals to write in collaboration with two different students. I should get professional help with the external proposal, if not the internal proposal.
  • I’m running a conference in mid-July that I need to start planning in earnest, since the attendees need to make travel arrangements.
  • I haven’t even thought about summer research. I think I promised to write an IRB proposal before the summer started. That may not happen.

At the same time, last week I finally submitted the book chapter that had been absorbing all my writing time. Expect to see more blog posts over the summer, starting with a post about our three visiting speakers this spring.

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