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The Scarlet & Black

New Registrar of the College hired as large student class sizes impact registration for classes

Photo contributed by Catherine Ashton.

Enrollment for the class of 2025 is up 27.5 percent compared to the class of 2024. This dramatic increase in class size has already had implications on various aspects of the Grinnell experience, including residence life , dining services and now class registration and class sizes. It’s to the point where the College hired a new registrar staff member, Catherine Ashton, to combat the challenges of registering the College’s largest first-year class after an online academic year.

“I am learning a lot and meeting a lot of really great people,” said Ashton, who took up her new position in August of 2021, right as the class of 2025 arrived. Her role is to oversee maintenance of student records, supporting academic policies, registration, accreditation and compliance and reporting for the federal government. As time moves on, she hopes to “build systems and processes that support all of our community partners … so that we are effective in what we do to support students.” Her first task, however, was to enroll the class of 2025.

When class schedules were released on Aug. 25, 2021, around 125 first years were enrolled in only three classes due specifically to being cut from first choice classes. Chloe Karasek `25 was one of these students who found themselves having to wait in line in the Harris Center add/drop session to find a class to get into.

“It’s stressful thinking about how missing a couple of classes in your first year could really put you off-course,” said Karasek. While they eventually got into the classes they wanted, other students had to wait until they could be assigned their fourth class and missed out on course content as a result.

“I think that a lot of offices anticipated that this year’s class would be big but maybe not as big as it is,” said Ashton. The registrar’s office uses a formula to estimate the average number of class seats available to each first year student. While this number usually falls around 4.2, meaning that most students would get into the classes they wanted, this year that number fell to 3.2.

“Mathematically, that means that we need to have every student take every seat that’s available,” Ashton said. Despite their projections meant to enroll students with four classes, a large number of students still ended up with only three classes. Ashton cites errors made by students – such as listing too few classes or repeating the same class multiple times – while filling out registration cards as the main reason why so many students did not receive a full class schedule.

Ashton reports that most of the registration issues have now been resolved, and most of the first years who experienced registration problems have at least been assigned a fourth class.

But what’s to stop the problem from happening again?

“We’re starting to run projections for spring and looking at what’s being offered,” Ashton said. The registrar’s office, in coordination with several other departments, will be implementing actions to accommodate the class of 2025 throughout their four years of college. These include forecasting what class sizes will look like in the future, working with academic departments to offer additional and more varied classes, as well as offering more individualized advising to students regarding major progression and graduation requirements.

“Ultimately,” Ashton said, “we will do what has to be done to ensure that all students can graduate in four years.”

(Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect Catherine Ashton’s position as the Registrar of the College. A previous version of the article said she was a Registrar Assistant. The S&B regrets this error deeply. Updated on September 25, 2021, 4:40 pm.)

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