Cancellations follow lower enrollment in elective courses

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Student must finalize both required classes and electives by January 26. (Photo by Patrick Goodman)

As the Jan. 23rd registration deadline approaches, some faculty are voicing concern that fewer students may be registering for electives than in previous semesters.

But even as  professors from the English and history departments report fewer students registering for upper-level classes this semester, a report on electives from the  registrar’s office  is inconclusive.

An English special topics class on Joseph Conrad was cancelled because not enough students registered, Dr. Debra Romanick Baldwin said. This was her first time to offer the class at the undergraduate level.

“I was shocked,” said Dr. Gregory Roper, chair of the English department, adding that there could be several reasons for students’ lack of interest.

Overall for the English Department, Roper said that “my sense is the [registration] numbers are down a little bit.”

For example, while Dr. Andrew Moran’s Shakespeare class always fills immediately, this year only seven students had enrolled a week after registration. Recently, the class has “limped its way up to 13,” said Roper.

Moran said that the last time he taught this class, in 2013, he had 25 students plus a waiting list.

Dr. Susan Hanssen, chair of the history department, has also observed less interest in upper-level classes this semester. She said that while last year 25 students enrolled for her History of Liberal Arts Education class, this semester there are only six.

However, Katherine McGraw, from the Office of the Registrar, said that the number of cancelled classes between this semester and the last are “comparable.”

According to a September 28, 2017 report, five three-credit upper-level classes were cancelled in fall of 2017, which is proportionate to five classes which have been cancelled this semester so far. Four of these are due to insufficient enrollment. Until the registration deadline these numbers will be subject to change.

McGraw said that in spring of 2017 only two relevant upper-level classes were cancelled, however.

The registrar will be unable to compare class sizes between this semester and last year until after their February 2 census.

Roper’s theory is that students are “having to take classes for concentrations and so are not as free,” although he says that it would take “hard work with the data” to prove this theory.

“I would feel bad if we’re locking them up too much,” he said. “I want to encourage students to take more classes just for the heck of it.”

Dr. Matthew Walz, chair of the philosophy department, has the same concern. He concedes that concentrations are “a type of elective” but asks: “is the same spirit of choosing concentrations at work” or is it seeking knowledge for its own sake or certification thinking?

“I hope students are thinking,‘Why am I doing what I’m doing? Is it in accord with… the liberal arts education?’” Walz said.

As a double major in English and drama, Katarina Morris said that the 18-credit hour cap is an extra challenge for her. Because several one-credit courses are required for her majors, Morris said that, “while I was going to have room to take more courses, I can now only take the required elective, one per major.”

“I would like to be able to take electives in my field… expand my horizons,” Morris said.

As a senior English major, Theresa Guin also emphasized the importance of electives.

“I think electives are super fun,” she said. Guin took six classes every semester her first three years to free up her schedule for electives, most of which have been English. This semester she is taking electives in English, Politics, and Education.

“I’m in favor of taking classes just to stretch yourself and try something new and take a chance,” Roper said.

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