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Monday, Apr 22, 2024

Classroom experience and course registration suffer as over-enrolled Middlebury returns to in-person classes

From an unusual system for course registration to packed classrooms, both students and professors are feeling the impact of over-enrollment — and many have concerns about the potential spread of Covid-19 in the classroom.

The morning of course registration is typically a time of stress for Middlebury students, fraught with countdown timers and frantic emails to get into often long-ago-filled classes. This fall, with a student body of over 2,800 students — about 300 students more than in a typical year — tensions are heightened. Now more than ever, students are having trouble getting into courses, and classrooms are packed with those hoping to get off waitlists.

With more than 50 additional first years registering this semester, the college divided students randomly by First Year Seminar into two registration groups, one registering at 10 a.m. and the other registering half an hour later. The change was intended to improve registration software performance, but many students in the second round struggled to register for any of the classes they wanted. The second group of students will have priority for registration in the spring.

Unlike in the fall, however, spring courses do not have seats reserved specifically for first years.

Addie Morrison ’25 was in the second wave of registration and only got into one class from her three original registration plans. Although she is grateful to have successfully registered for four classes, Morrison is taking an online class, which she did not expect. 

“I figured I wouldn’t get the classes in my first plan, but I wasn’t expecting it to be that crazy,” Morrison said. 

This fall, Middlebury added about 30 more lecture-and seminar-style classes compared to fall 2019, according to Dean of Curriculum Grace Spatafora. Middlebury also welcomed 44 new faculty members, of which nine are tenure-track professors. Last fall, Middlebury hired 33 faculty members. Despite the new hires, students and professors alike reported that classes feel overcrowded. In some cases, there is not enough seating available.

“I have people sitting on the windowsill in my environment class,” Meaghan McEnroe ’24.5 said. “They are definitely overloading the classes, but it’s still hard to get in.” 

McEnroe was only able to get into one of the four classes she was hoping to take and expressed frustration with the registration process. 

“It is all about how fast you can log into BannerWeb, and then you have to beg professors to get into classes.” 

Sophomores, juniors and seniors registered this past spring, with older students selecting first. Still, some have struggled to switch into classes they wanted or needed.  

The new pressures of over-enrollment in classes and limited course options has raised questions surrounding the value of tuition, which was increased by 2.5% in February 2021. 

McEnroe agreed, saying that her parents were upset. “They’re like, ‘How do we send you when you’re not even taking the classes you’re supposed to be there for?’”

While students search for spots in already full courses, faculty are also struggling with the consequences of over-enrollment as the college transitions back to in-person learning. Facing classrooms filled above capacity and heightened concerns about Covid-19, some professors are pushing for safer classrooms and better compensation. 

“The room is bursting at the seams and feels extremely unsafe in terms of capacity, ventilation, and distancing,” said Eilat Glikman, associate professor of physics, of the classroom assigned to her for the fall. 

Glikman is returning to campus this fall after a full year of remote teaching. While she looks forward to resuming in-person teaching, she is frustrated with the college’s Covid-19 classroom policies for capacity limits. 

According to her, classrooms were not designed to accommodate the college’s over-enrollment. In a cramped room where some students cannot sit facing the blackboard, Glickman believes her teaching has been affected negatively by these compromises. And as even more students than before the pandemic squeeze into classrooms, physical distancing is often impossible to maintain. 

Glikman is also concerned with students’ relaxed attitudes about appropriate face mask use, which makes for a nerve-wracking teaching experience. 

“I see a lot of poorly fitted masks, and a lot of exposed noses. Students will drink during class pulling their masks down,” Glikman said.

Charlie Keohane

Charlie Keohane ’24 (she/her) is an Editor at Large. She previously served as the SGA Correspondent and a Senior Writer.   

She is an environmental writing major and a psychology minor from Northern California. Outside of academics, Charlie is a Senior Admissions Fellow at the Middlebury Admissions Office. She also is involved with the women’s track team and hosts Witching Hour, a radio show on 91.1 WRMC. In Spring 2023, she studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, watching Greta Gerwig movies, polar plunging, sending snail mail, and FaceTiming her rescue dog, Poppy.