Harvard College Mandates Pre-Term Planning to Gauge Class Sizes

Starting this semester, undergraduates and some graduate students will be required to tentatively declare their course schedules for the following semester months before shopping period begins.

Seniors, who have the earliest deadline, will be required to submit their course plan for the spring semester by Nov. 3. Juniors must declare their tentative schedules by Nov. 10, and freshmen and sophomores will turn in their course plans the following week.

The course plan is not binding and are meant to offer College administrators guidance in hiring teaching fellows, assigning classrooms, and ordering course materials before the semester begins.

“It’s not registration. You’re not in a class,” said Stephanie H. Kenen, associate dean of undergraduate education. “It’s information for planning purposes. We’re not giving faculty the names of the students.”

Given recent expansion of the General Education curriculum, College administrators have experienced difficulty in predicting course enrollment numbers, and the College has had to hire teaching fellows at the last minute and coordinate room changes after classes have already begun over the past semesters.

For example, Aesthetic and Interpretive Understanding 26: Gender and Performance, which had an enrollment of 24 students in fall 2007, jumped to an enrollment of over 200 when the course officially became part of the Gen Ed curriculum in fall 2009.

“Pre-term planning might not have indicated all of that. There’s a certain viral thing that happens during shopping period,” Kenen said. “But if we’d known 100 people were interested, that would have woken us up.”

Unplanned hires cost the College an additional $1 million last year, according to an estimate by Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris made last spring.

Finding additional teaching fellows at the last minute may have affected teaching quality as well in previous years, Kenen said, pointing to Q Guide data showing that TFs and teaching assistants hired after the start of the term received scores that were “lower in a statistically significant way” than those hired earlier.

The policy change, which administrators said was a pedagogically sound idea, means students must plan ahead to submit their course schedules.

“Your educational plan should be an ongoing conversation in your head,” Kenen said. “Not set in stone, not pre-determined, but your whole eight semesters here should be an organic whole.”

Last year administrators required sophomores to fill out a plan of study online, in which they listed courses they planned on taking for each of the remaining semesters.

Courses selected in the plan of study can be easily inserted into the pre-planning tool.

Incoming freshmen will have an opportunity to consult with their academic advisers before they are requried to select courses.

First- and second-year graduate students will also be required to fill out the form. Their deadline will be Dec. 2, according to the Pre-Planning website, which is located at http://ptp.fas.harvard.edu.

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