Major denial: students struggle to enroll in courses required for major

Three students sit at their laptops doing homework outside the Hub at Claremont McKenna College
A lack of faculty, resources and space makes it difficult for students at the 5Cs to take courses required for competitive majors. (Jonathan Ke • The Student Life)

With acceptance rates as low as 7 percent, the Claremont Colleges are some of the most selective liberal arts schools in the nation. But in the wake of class registration, some students are discovering that being accepted to these schools is not always the hardest part — sometimes, it’s getting into a competitive major.

Across the 5Cs, students struggle to enroll in the courses that they need for their majors due to the lack of faculty, space and overall resources. This is especially true for majors such as Computer Science (CS) at Pomona College and Harvey Mudd College (HMC) and Environmental Analysis (EA) and Media Studies at Pitzer College.

At Pomona, the CS department has a fixed number of seats open to students in required courses. Professor David Kauchak, chair of the CS Department at Pomona, explained that this is largely due to the college’s limited faculty.

Given the number of faculty in the department right now (six tenure-track faculty who are teaching and a seventh joining in January), we simply cannot support everyone,” he told TSL via email.

Aldo Ruiz Parra PO 25, a CS major, expressed frustration with the competitiveness of registering for CS classes in an email to TSL.

“I came in [to Pomona] with the intention to explore classes and take advantage of the liberal arts curriculum,” Parra said. “I did not expect that it would be difficult getting into CS classes at the beginning.”

In an attempt to make it more accessible to students, the CS department decided to roll out a new program that would better support CS minors and students interested in taking upper-level CS courses.

“CS54 (the second course in the intro sequence) will have a fixed number of seats each semester for first- and second-year students. If there are more students interested in the course than the available seats, [the department] will randomly fill the seats,” Kauchak said.

Students selected for CS54 will have seats reserved in upper-level courses, but students who were not allocated a spot will not be able to reapply to take the course in future semesters, effectively blocking them from pursuing a CS major or minor.

“This allows students the flexibility to engage with CS as much as they want as well as explore other great courses and majors throughout the college,” Kauchak said.

Harvey Mudd’s CS Department also struggles to meet demand from off-campus students, instead utilizing a lottery system for CS majors from other colleges.

“This ensures the provision of courses to students in the consortium while providing access to classes that all HMC CS majors need to graduate on time,” professor Jim Boerkoel, chair of the Computer Science Department at Harvey Mudd, said in an email to TSL.

Moreover, for upper-level courses, priority is given to HMC CS majors to ensure that they can graduate on time.

CS students are not the only ones facing difficulties with their major.

Kimai McPhee SC 25, a digital media studies major, said the limited supply of resources — such as fully equipped computer labs with programs like Adobe Suite, of which Scripps only has enough for a handful of students — contributes to a smaller number of available classes within the major. Her Introduction to Digital Arts course, for example, had over 80 PERMs.

McPhee suggested that administrators commit to improving access to resources so that they can open more classes on their campuses.

“As a Scripps student, I’m very fortunate with the resources that I get access to, like Adobe Suite, which is really expensive, but my classmates from the other 5Cs don’t have access to it,” McPhee said.

Similarly, Ana Hernandez PZ 25, an EA major on a science track, emphasized the selectivity of the EA program at Pitzer, something that she had not known about when she initially came to the college. She eventually found that it was easier to complete her major through the Keck Science Department than to do it at her own school.

“Since the science track is through Keck, my advisors were assigned through Keck, so I didn’t have to compete for advisors at Pitzer, making it a little easier for me,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez expressed frustration with her experience.

With many professors leaving, it makes you wonder if you are really getting your education’s worth,” she said. “I came [to Pitzer] to have this experience with professors who were experts in their field and now they’re not here and I don’t have that experience anymore.”

She argued that Pitzer should be more flexible with degree requirements in order to compensate for the selectivity of the courses.

“Since there’s little faculty to support the students, students should be given a little flexibility with the requirements or be allowed to appeal certain ones,” Hernandez said. “My education shouldn’t be impacted when we can broker a solution from both sides.”

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