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2018-19 Changes to the CS Major

Notes: The term "cap" refers to the maximum number of courses you can take before you will be disallowed from taking any class that is over-subscribed. The term "major" refers to the requirements for satisfying the major.

Summary of changes

The department has decided to alter the major requirements and enrollment policies in light of high enrollment pressures in Computer Science. The goal of this policy change is to reduce class sizes and improve the overall student experience.

The major has been reduced by one course; specifically, we now require one fewer elective, for a total of 8 credits. The other aspects of the major are unchanged. The minor, as well, is unchanged.

In addition, to reduce class sizes, we are implementing a cap on the number of courses you can take. The cap will go into effect after you have completed 9 credits in Computer Science. Once you have reached the cap, any course that is over-subscribed will be closed to you. Currently, most of our upper-level courses are over-subscribed, so we project that this policy will impact your ability to enroll in most upper-level courses once you have reached the cap.



Why are we doing this?

The department has been under the strain of high enrollments for several years now, which is both a blessing and a curse. We believe our discipline is an important one and we place high value in teaching a large number of students at the college. We also enjoying having a vibrant, active, and growing student body. But the course enrollments have reached an untenable position. We have already sacrificed anything resembling a non-major course as well as all seminars. For the past several years, we have delayed making these difficult choices by taking on the extra work load ourselves, hoping either for more faculty lines for the department or an abatement of increasing enrollments. Neither have come to fruition, forcing our hand on the issue.

Continuing with the current state of large class sizes and unpredictable course offerings is unfair to both students and faculty. We studied a large list of possible solutions, getting feedback from the Provost, other academic departments at Swarthmore, other CS departments across the country, as well as our students. The changes we have decided to implement are not perfect (if they were, we would have adopted them much sooner), but they were the most fair. Trust that we did not make this decision capriciously and without carefully weighing the pros and cons. The primary benefit to our new policy is to reduce average class sizes and improve the class experience.


Have you thought about doing [insert another idea] instead?

This is a decision we came to after much deliberation, considering numerous factors including constraints on hiring. We have weighed several different options, incorporating ideas from students, faculty, other departments, and our peer institutions. The difficult choices facing CS departments are a nation-wide problem and, absent additional faculty, no solution is pain free.


What counts towards the cap?

Any course that can be applied towards completing the major requirements. This includes:

  • The intro sequence (CPSC 21/31/35)
  • Any full-credit, upper-level CPSC course numbered above 35 (see the major requirements for a more complete definition)
  • AP credit for CPSC 21
  • Study abroad and transfer credits
  • Cross-listed courses that qualify for the major


If I now satisfy the major requirements, do I have to stay enrolled in my courses this semester?

If the new policy means that you are done with the major, you do not have to stay enrolled in courses for Fall 2018. If you plan on dropping a Fall 2018 course, please do so in a timely manner so other students can add the course.


What if I have exceeded the cap already (or will exceed the cap after this semester)?

  • We will not change your enrollments for this semester - the cap will not be enforced for Fall 2018 enrollments.
  • The lottery policy will go into effect for pre-registration of Spring 2019 courses and beyond. If the courses you take this semester put you at/over the cap, it will be factor for Spring 2019 registrations.


Once I hit the cap, can I still take [insert other option here]?

Once you hit the cap, you can take courses we do not lottery/teach. These include:

  • Directed readings (at the discretion of the professor)
  • Cross-listed courses taught in other departments
  • Courses taught at other institutions (e.g., study abroad, Penn, the tri-co).

If a course is under-enrolled (see below), the cap will not prevent you from taking that course. The objective of this policy is to relieve pressure in over-enrolled courses.


Does this apply to class of 2019 too? i.e. we can graduate as major with 8 credits and we can only take up to 9 credits before the cap impacts us?

Correct. If you have already met the cap, it will only impact your Spring 2019 registration.


How will credits from directed reading groups affect this cap?

  • If you enroll in a full-credit directed reading (CS93), it will count as an elective and towards your cap. Directed readings that earn less than 1 credit (e.g. 0.5 credit) do not count towards the major and thus do not count towards your cap.
  • Directed readings are not subject to lotteries so you are welcome to continue taking CS93 credits even after you hit the cap. The cap is only enforced in the lottery process.


Does the cap apply to honors major?

The cap will be modified for individuals to ensure that they can complete the necessary preps for honors (both majors and minors).


What if courses are under-enrolled? Would I be able to take an under-enrolled course even if I have reached the cap of 9 credits?

The objective of the cap is to relieve enrollment pressure in over-enrolled courses. It is not designed to prevent students from taking classes. The cap will not apply to you if a course is under-enrolled. The specifics of how this will be implemented have not yet been determined, but will be shared with students in advance of preregistration for Spring 2019 courses.


How do study abroad/transfer credits count towards the cap?

Transfer of CS credits taken off campus will still be handled as before by the departmental Off Campus Study Coordinator. Any credits that the department counts towards the major, whether from a domestic institution or abroad, will count towards the cap.


Is this credits or courses?

Credits. With the exception of 0.5-credit directed readings and the 0-credit senior poster session, all CS courses taught at Swarthmore are 1 credit.


This unexpectedly changes my plan for this year

We did not take these decisions lightly and we understand that this impacts many people's plans for the year. However, any of our options (including doing nothing) would have had negative impacts on a large number of us.

Our lottery policy had already considered completion of the major, so this is not a completely new philosophy for our department. We hope that this change will allow us to improve many aspects of our curriculum: it will allow us to more clearly define the lottery policy going forward, and hopefully to reduce the need to even implement a lottery for most courses. It isn't fair to students that we have almost no ability to predict what courses we can offer in a 2-year plan or that sophomores are locked out of most upper-level courses.