EECS department reevaluates staff numbers to satisfy Increased demand

Thursday, January 11, 2018 - 8:54pm

University of Michigan Electrical Engineering and Computer Science courses have developed extensive waitlists due to growing enrollment rates, graduate students registering for undergraduate classes, and limited numbers of faculty  — giving students stress about being able to complete their requirements on time. The department’s administration is working to hire more full-time faculty and acquire larger lecture halls to meet the high demand, but have struggled to succeed.

Currently, the EECS department is comprised of 143 faculty, 1,882 undergraduate students and 1,094 graduate students, high enrollment numbers that have increased significantly over the past decade. Seth Pettie, professor and associate chair of the electrical engineering and computer science department, confirmed the department is aware of the waitlist issues affecting undergraduate students and stated it has become a recent problem due to the program’s high demand.

“If you look at our enrollment numbers, they go up linearly and year by year,” Pettie said. “They have been going up for the last 10 years and of course (registration) wasn’t a problem 10 years ago and things have become more acute in the last year.”

Just within the Computer Science and Engineering major of EECS, enrollment has grown exponentially within the last five years. According to Brian Noble, chair of the computer science and engineering department, the number of undergraduates with declared CSE majors has doubled, increasing from 748 in Fall 2013 to 1,457 in Fall 2017.

The CSE undergraduate degrees granted has subsequently increased from 211 during the 2012-2013 academic year to 520 during the 2016-2017 academic year. However, the size of CSE faculty has not met this growing demand. In the last five years, the CSE faculty has only increased by 22 percent, from 50 faculty members in Fall 2013 to 61 faculty members in Fall 2017. 

“This is something that’s happening across the country,” Noble said. “We sort of knew this was happening five years ago and so our strategy has been to hire as fast as we can and we’ll meet the demand. The College and University have been very supportive of us hiring faculty.”

However, high enrollment rates and low faculty numbers are not the only factors affecting waitlists. Graduate students have reportedly been registering for undergraduate, upper-level courses and taking seats intended for undergraduate students. Although graduate students are generally restricted from registering for these courses, some of these courses were placed on a different registration schedule.

Due to high numbers of declared students, the EECS-CSE advising office organized staged enrollment phases to ensure students in need of upper-level courses for graduation can obtain them. Most upper-level courses are set on a staged enrollment schedule, with the first phase from Nov. 20 to Dec. 5, the second phase from Dec. 6 to Dec. 8, and the third phase from Dec. 11 forward. According to Noble, popular electives like EECS 442, Computer Vision, was mistakenly not on staged enrollment this term.

However, with EECS 442 not on a restricted schedule by mistake, the waitlist skyrocketed to 176 students during registration and currently still has a waitlist of 64 students, according to the Winter 2018 course guide. The course was consequently filled up by masters students, since it was the only undergraduate CS class they could enroll in.

“What’s happening is a lot of the Electrical and Computer Engineering masters students would like to take Computer Science classes,” Noble said. “We don’t let them into our undergraduate classes because they’re reserved for undergraduates first, but (EECS 442) was the only class they could enroll in so they flocked to it.”

However, Noble emphasized the EECS department grants registration priority to students with upcoming graduation dates.

“Our number one goal is to make sure we meet the obligation we committed to get students to graduate on time,” Noble said. “That doesn’t mean they’ll get the classes they want necessarily. For courses a part of our required set, we try really hard to never turn anyone away.”

Although this priority system works for some seniors, others are still placed on waitlists. Data Science major Anna Ten Have, an LSA senior, emphasized she does not receive as high of a registration priority compared to her peers. As a result, she will not know if she will get off the waitlist until well into the semester.

“I only registered for one EECS class but I was 37th on the waitlist when I registered,” Ten Have said. “It’s really annoying because it’s a class I really want to take.”

However, Noble explained how students with earlier enrollment times are signing up for extra classes during registration and dropping them after the first couple weeks of the term. This method subsequently leads to increased waitlists during registration and sudden decreases at the start of the semester.

“The students who have early enrollment dates know they’re never going to get into something if they don’t enroll right away, or they think that,” Noble said. “That happened in the fall, we cleared waitlists really deeply. In 442, the waitlist has shrunk significantly, that’s partly what’s going on.”

This reportedly places significant stress on not just juniors and seniors, but also underclassmen EECS students who are just starting out. Data Science major Isabelle Williams, an LSA sophomore, experienced this first hand when attempting to register for several EECS classes to stay on track with her coursework.

“I was waitlisted for the class I wanted to take, my back up class, and my back up class for my back up class,” Williams wrote in an email to The Daily. “I was not able to register for a single EECS class that counted for my major. This added considerable unnecessary stress to an already stressful end of the semester.”

Even with waitlists slowly decreasing at the start of the semester, students in the same situation as Williams will never get into the classes they want.

“I dropped the class I was waitlisted for because I was 112th,” Williams said. “Our professor said 50-70 students were likely to get off.”

Noble emphasized these increased waitlists could also be due to the number of non-major LSA students who are registering for introductory CS courses. EECS 183 has increased to one of the highest enrolled CS classes. As a result, courses like EECS 183 have unintentionally turned into service courses — classes for non-major students who want to get grounding in the field.

“Our 100 and 200 level courses have become service courses in spite of us, so those courses are designed for Computer Science majors but lots of other people have decided they want to be computationally literate,” Noble said.

In order to fix these registration issues, the department aims to fulfill both long-term and short-term goals to decrease the waitlists while still providing students with the quality education they were promised.

Pettie said he is working on hiring additional temporary and tenure-track faculty to make up for the department’s current gap. According to Noble, senior Ph.D. students, as well as recent Ph.D. graduates in the area, are teaching approximately 10 percent of CSE lecture sections on a temporary basis. Yet, with the program in high demand, the department has faced challenges with hiring long-term faculty due to competition with other universities.

“We’ve been doing a tremendous amount of hiring of temporary people to help staff our classes,” Pettie said. “We’re conducting lots of tenure-track searches to increase our faculty size and it’s very difficult because of the tremendous demand for CS courses year by year — it's greater every year.”

Noble emphasized strategies, such as increasing lecture hall and class sizes and finding professors without full-time teaching appointments to teach a few classes.

“In the short term, how do we scale our classes up, how do we find bigger lecture rooms, are there more of our very (own) senior Ph.D. students that can take the time out of their academics to teach a class, are there more people in the community that can teach?” Noble said.

Increasing class sizes and bringing in temporary faculty can also come with repercussions. Noble highlighted the administration’s intent to get as many students off the waitlists as possible without sacrificing the University’s high education standards.

“If we feel like we’re compromising the quality of the educational experience, then the question is how many students can we take and still give them the Michigan educational experience that we really want to give them,” Noble underscored. “We want to make that number as big as we can, but we don’t want to sacrifice quality to do that.”

Many EECS undergraduate students are hopeful these changes will fix the waitlist issues for the future, but current students still may not have the chance to take advantage of every opportunity they desire.

“I came to this University to learn from the EECS department and it's unacceptable that I may be unable to do that next semester because there are too many students in my field than the University can handle,” Williams said.

With the administration’s long-term goals to hire permanent faculty and build larger spaces for class, such as the future robotics building, Noble hopes these advances will reduce waitlists in the coming semesters and provide more opportunities for future students. Ultimately, he emphasized the current students are the department’s main priority.

“For the students that are currently enrolled, our current goal is to allow them to get the major they want in a reasonable amount of time and we are doing everything to make that happen,” he said.