The registrar’s office estimated that 2,681 students intended to register for 2,634 class seats for the upcoming winter term. There were a total of 157 students, including 141 upperclassmen, who were unregistered for a winter term course as of Nov. 30. Grace Spatafora, dean of curriculum, shared that based on data from the previous three years, the college’s algorithm predicted that anywhere from 60–100 students would engage in off-campus internships. But at the time of registration this year, that number turned out to be only six.
Spatafora explained that the misconjecture is partially due to upperclassmen’s unfinalized internship plans. Decisions about some internship opportunities were not released by Nov. 7, when students began J-Term registration. Cheryl Whitney Lower, associate director for internships & early engagement at the Center for Careers and Internships (CCI), reported that as of Dec. 5, 63 on- or off-campus internships had been approved, and she anticipates that between 83–87 J-Term internships will ultimately be approved. Until their plans are finalized, some students planning to do internships are currently filling seats in classes that they will not ultimately take.
Still, the initial low internship engagement has puzzled the administration. J-Term is intended to accommodate first- and second-year students by allowing them to take classes they may not have otherwise taken, fulfill requirements or explore what they may want to major in. For juniors and seniors, the time provides opportunities to take on independent research, have more real-world experiences and figure out a future after Middlebury, according to Spatafora.
Spatafora believes that the initial internship numbers were lower than expected because upperclassmen who missed out on previous J-Term experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic want to take in-person courses more than ever. Also, Spatafora said, many students who took time off during the pandemic have returned. This has contributed to limited space in J-Term classes as a larger than expected number of students were interested in taking a course.
“These students have already missed out, they had to go home. They want to be on campus with their friends. That’s what’s driving part of the enrollment pressures. Whether this is a consequence of the pandemic that’s going to persist or not, we just have to wait and see,” Spatafora said.
Additionally, the annual EMT course, which typically has a 20-person capacity, could not be offered this year due to staffing shortages, according to Spatafora.
Lower noted that a fairly large number of student internships this year are located in Vermont or on campus. These include VTDigger, the Parent Child Center, the State’s Attorney’s Office, Addison County Regional Planning Commission, Gifford Medical Center, the Conservation Law Foundation and Treeline Terrains, among others. On-campus internships include the Admissions Office, the Athletic Department, Oratory Now and the Theatre Costume Shop.
Lucia Snyderman ’23.5 took the fall 2020 semester off to avoid the Covid-19 restrictions and did a Sea Education Association (SEA) program instead. As a senior, she struggled to find a J-Term class.
“I tried registering for either of my classes and both filled up immediately,” Synderman said. “I emailed the professors and one of them put me on his waitlist, but he said he doesn’t think he’ll take anyone off. I am hoping someone drops so I can get in, and my backup is doing my thesis which I am going to do anyway, but I really want to take a class in addition to doing research.”
Synderman has since managed to enroll in Conservation Genomics (BIOL 0325) with winter term Professor Ellie Armstrong, one of her top picks.
Mira Irfan ’23.5 had several classes she was hoping to register for, including “Marketing and Brand Strategy,” “Hindi for Beginners” and “Current Affairs Documentary Film,” all of which were full. She is not interested in doing an independent study. “I think sacrificing small class sizes is worth it if everyone is able to take a class that they are interested in,” Irfan wrote.
Spatafora noted the impacts of over-enrollment. “If we’ve got an enrollment issue, we have larger classes than we would like, which impacts faculty-student ratio, and impacts the accessibility of courses to our students. There is not a lot I can do about the size of the classes right now, other than to say they will come down again. That is not much comfort to someone who is getting ready to graduate,” Spatafora said.
Spatafora plans to meet and work closely with the CCI to ensure that internships are finalized earlier so that potential internship-bound students do not occupy a large number of seats in future J-Term classes.
Madeleine Kaptein '25.5 is a copy editor for The Campus, and previously wrote for the local section of the paper. She plans to major in International and Global Studies with a concentration in European Studies. In her free time, Madeleine enjoys reading, biking, and watching fashion videos on YouTube.