Enjoying biology more lately? Apparently, so does everyone else.
Institutional Research statistics made available to the Orient show that changes in enrollment differ between departments. While the data, which accounts for the 10 academic years from 1997-2006, shows many disciplines holding similar numbers of students in their classes over that period, some departments saw large-scale movements over time.
Among departments that enrolled more than 400 students per year in their classes, three saw an increase by more than 20 percent over the 10 years. There was a 30 percent increase in the number of students taking Asian studies courses over that time, 25 percent in economics and 24 percent in biology.
However, these did not represent the highest percentage increases—those totals were found in smaller departments.
Theater increased the number of students in its classes by 111 percent, gay and lesbian studies by 82 percent, Latin American studies by 78 percent and Russian by 76 percent. All of these increases, though, were not adjusted to reflect a 9 percent increase in the size of the student body over the period.
The lowest total was held by Earth and oceanographic science, which saw its course enrollment numbers fall by 25 percent. Russian had the lowest mean class size at 6.9 students, while government and legal studies had the highest with 28.7 students.
Dean of Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd was quick to point out the multitude of factors that can cause an increase or decrease in the number of students in a department's classes.
"First off, there are changes within disciplines and the curriculum," Judd said. "Those are ongoing and happen all the time."
Often, Judd said, a popular professor will either retire or go on sabbatical, and students might either forego that professor's course or wait until he or she returns. Changes to distribution or division requirement designations also influence student demand, she said. Registrar Christine Cote speculated that current events often drove student interest.
"The economy has been very much in the news as of late," Cote said. "Science is very important right now. Things happening in the world tend to affect enrollments."
"We had this kind of little surge [in Chinese] in the fall after the Beijing Olympics," Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Jim Higginbotham said. "We don't know if there is a direct correlation."
Judd, Cote and Higginbotham all stressed there were an extremely high number of reasons for changes in course demand trends.
And while she recognized some changes over time, Cote felt the numbers generally held steady.
"It is amazing to watch how predictable things are," Cote said.
Although the Orient did not have access to more recent numbers, Higginbotham said Earth and oceanographic science has had an increase in enrollment since 2006, while economics had a particularly high number of students in its courses in 2007 and 2008.
Higginbotham swiftly pointed out some of the difficulties with the data, however, and cautioned against drawing conclusions. Cross-listed courses, for example, were counted twice in the set, he said.
"These kinds of charts, we just found so misleading," Higginbotham said.
Since 2006, the College has collected department enrollment data in a different manner—looking more at individual courses as opposed to the department as a whole. That new system, Higginbotham said, has helped the College and individual departments prepare better for upcoming semesters.
"I think what we are doing now is a more efficient and productive way of planning."