Students who received an e-mail last Friday informing them that they were closed out of a class were not alone. About 260 students were closed out of classes for winter term. Many of these students are unaware of how closeout decisions are made.
Each faculty member and department has control over how classes are filled, according to Registrar Kevin Hastings. They set standards for which students get into the class, such as students with specific majors or a specific class standing. The most common priority is previously closed out students, followed by majors or upperclassmen. After taking these priorities into account, students are selected randomly.
Faculty must have a principle for choosing students. “They never get to pick and choose,” Hastings said.
Although it is mostly random, closeouts are made “with an eye on whether a student will be closed out of other courses,” Hastings said.
Before bumping students, the registrar works with departments to try and minimize the number of closeouts. According to Larry Breitborde, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College, they do this by adjusting class limits, adding extra sections and canceling courses with low enrollment in favor of over-enrolled classes.
Professor of Anthropology Jon Wagner said he sometimes raises the class limits if a class is overenrolled. However, he said, “You don’t want to do that when it would mean reducing the quality of the experience for the students. Faculty must balance letting students in with keeping class sizes low.”
When his American Utopias class was over-enrolled, Wagner chose to raise the limit from 19 to 29. “It was kind of a leap,” he said, “I took a chance with the quality of the class and it worked.”
Breitborde said, “We do everything we can do” and close out students only “when we’ve gone as far as we can.”
“Knox tries its very best not to leave students high and dry,” Hastings said.
Their efforts to limit closeouts pay off. Two hundred sixty closeouts is “not bad on a percent basis”—only 6.2 percent of the total enrollment. Although this is slightly higher than last year, it is much lower than two years ago when there were 374 closeouts.
Although closeout rates are not published, Hastings said he has “a feeling we compare rather favorably to other schools.”
Breitborde noted that at many state schools, students take longer than four years to graduate because they cannot get into classes. “That doesn’t happen here. Departments are flexible with students,” he said.
Even so, Hastings said he “would like to see it no more than 150 [closeouts per term], at least under 200.”
Wagner said the administration and faculty are “concerned …that this means for students when they’re closed out.”
Sophomore Maddie Mandel knows very well the problems that getting closed out can cause. She has been closed out of three classes in her four terms at Knox.
In addition, freshman Monika Stempniewicz has been closed out of two classes in her first two terms.
“It’s annoying,” she said. “Before college, I got a lot of beginning classes out of the way, but I can’t take full advantage of that.”
Mandel said that students “should have four or five classes they want to take” when they go into the advising process “so they won’t be disappointed.”
For students who are trying to avoid getting closed out, Breitborde recommended that they plan ahead to make sure they have the prerequisites. “Planning with your advisor is an important thing to do,” he said.
If a class is very popular, Hastings recommended that students “save it for later; don’t even try it now, or make sure you have a viable back up plan.”
When students meet with their advisors to sign up for other classes, registration is “first come , first served” according to Hastings. Once a student is placed into a class by his or her advisor, they are guaranteed a spot.
For some students, there is a possibility of getting back into a class they were closed out of. After the first day of classes, students can take add/drop forms to faculty to try and re-enroll in the class.
Breitborde encourages students to “let the faculty member know about extenuating circumstances.” Some professors have a waitlist in case a student drops the course, or leave extra room for students with special circumstances.
“It’s a good idea to contact the professor. They may have a waiting list. I always do,” Wagner said. “We want to you to have a good experience here.”