College Revises Enrollment Policy

Kelly Gallagher ‘22


The approach of enrollment evokes anxiety for many students who worry about whether they’ll be able to get the classes they need, but this week, the College of the Holy Cross announced changes to the enrollment policy in hopes of improving students’ experiences. The campus community learned of these adjustments in an email from Registrar Patricia Ring early this week. For the Spring 2021 semester, the enrollment process will occur in three stages. Students will enroll in two classes at a time rather than the usual four. 

Enrollment times are also different than usual, but other elements of the enrollment process will function as they have in prior years. As the email explained, enrollment slots will still be arranged by class year, beginning with seniors and ending with first-years. In addition, as per usual a certain amount of seats will be reserved in each course for each class year. Once a class finishes enrollment in Stage 2, any unclaimed reserved seats will be released to the next class. 

The Spire reached out to Loren Cass, Dean of Experiential Learning and Student Success & Professor of Political Philosophy, for commentary. In an email exchange, Dean Cass shared insights into the thought process behind the policy changes.  

Graphic design by Valentina Moran ’23.

Question: What started the conversation about changing the enrollment policy, and when did the College begin pursuing that option? Who was involved in the process of adjusting the policy? 

Answer: The conversation about enrollment has been going on for several years.  The Deans Advisory Group, which is composed of the Class Deans, the Assistant Dean of International Students, the Registrar, and the Dean of Experiential Learning and Student Success, meets weekly to coordinate academic policies, prepare communications to students and advisors, manage course enrollment and academic advising, and to generally discuss academic issues affecting students.  This group has been discussing enrollment problems for many years.  Every enrollment period we have a significant number of students who are only able to enroll in 0, 1, 2, or 3 courses during their initial enrollment.  This happens for different reasons.  Some students have time conflicts with enrollment, some have connectivity issues, some make poor strategic decisions in filling their backpacks, and some just have really bad luck.  The reality of our traditional approach to enrollment is that most seats in high demand classes fill within 90 seconds.  If for whatever reason, you miss those 90 seconds, you may find it very difficult to get any of your top choices.  Many students have great luck with the enrollment process and are very happy with the outcome, but every semester there are a substantial number of students who miss out on the courses that they want to take and have to scramble to find courses.  In the Fall of 2019 we began exploring what a multistage enrollment process would look like.  We developed this into a set of ideas that we presented to the department chairs last winter/spring, since the chairs play a very important role in managing enrollment.  I also presented the idea at an Academic Governance Committee meeting last year.  As we were working on the idea last year, I also discussed it with members of the SGA.  We had been planning to pilot the new multistage enrollment process for the spring 2021 enrollment prior to the start of COVID.  Enrollment this past summer was particularly difficult, and this further reinforced our desire to try to find a way to give more students the opportunity to get into at least two of their top choices.  We thus brought a full proposal to the department chairs this fall.  Based on feedback we received, we further refined the proposal until we arrived at the process that was recently announced to students.  I would emphasize that this is a pilot process. We are hopeful that this new process will improve the overall student experience.   If it does not, we will move in a different direction.

Q: How will enrolling in two classes at a time help students get the classes they want and need? 

A: Our expectation is that since every student can only enroll in two courses instead of four in the first round, there should be half the demand for courses in the first round.  This should make it easier for students to get some of their priority courses.  In addition, we will be reserving seats by class year.  Any seats that are not taken by the relevant class year in the first round will be preserved into the second round.  With only a couple of exceptions, we will not be releasing seats from one class year to the next until the second round.  In the second round any unused 4th year seats at the end of 4th year enrollment will be released to 3rd years and on down the line as appropriate.  This should preserve the priority for 4th, 3rd, and 2nd years while still making unused seats available to the next class year in the second round.  We always reserve substantial first year seats in courses appropriate to first year students.  Our hope is that this will make the process fairer for students, and they will be more likely to get their top choices.  

Q: It feels like the enrollment announcement came quite late in the semester. Was there any reason for the delay in communication?
A: Like everything else this semester, everything seems to take longer.  We conducted multiple consultations with the department chairs as well as the Deans of the Faculty, Provost, the Vocare director, the Montserrat director, and the Deans Advisory Group.  We explored all options in terms of timing to try to find times that would be workable for students in the Eastern Time Zone as well as students on the West Coast, in Asia, and in Europe.  We explored multiple options.  We could find no times during the day when enrollment would not significantly disrupt classes with the extended schedule that we are using this semester.  We considered having enrollment begin at 10:00 PM and at 7:30 AM.  In the end we decided to use a weekend for the first round so that we could use 10:00 AM and 6:00 PM start times on each day.  These times are not terrible for students on the West Coast or Asia.  We are hopeful that there will not be substantial problems with enrollment in the first round.  However, in the second round there may be students who are unable to get into the courses that they need.  The second round beginning at 7:30 AM each day was chosen because we wanted to give students a full day to consult with advisors, the Registrar’s Office, chairs, and faculty members if they have questions or problems.  It is a complicated situation with our students scattered all over the world, and we went through multiple iterations of the plan before settling on the one we are using.  What we discovered is that there is no perfect solution.  We are faced with a series of bad options, and we are trying to choose the least worst one among them.  I agree that the announcement was later than we would have liked, but I think it was important to work through as many of these issues as possible.  Our goal was to make sure that we were able to make the announcement before faculty began their advising.  The schedule of courses will be available beginning on October 24th, so we expect that most students will have their advising appointments after that date.

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