Just ahead of Winter Quarter registration, science students worry they will struggle getting into required classes


Xavier Ortega / The DePaulia

Large labs and lecture halls tend to leave seats empty because of cap-sized classrooms, leaving many students without a required course.

With the quarter in its fifth week, many students from the College of Science and Health (CSH) will soon be racing to their course carts to ensure they stand a chance against the cap-size limit that has been recently preventing students staying on sequence with their core classes.

Each of the 2,458 undergraduate students enrolled in CSH must pass a three-quarter sequence of general biology and general chemistry before they can move up in their chosen field.

It is common knowledge among students that failure to pass the core classes with a C- or better means that they must retake the class in order to move on. Even if students do pass the class, they still might not be able to move on to the next level if they were unable to enroll into the next sequence due to the cap sizes being reached and the waitlists being too full.

CSH designed a program called the Pathways Honors Program for those coming to DePaul seeking a career in health and medicine.

On the CSH homepage, a brochure of the honors program is attached which advertises the many benefits of Pathways. Advertisements mention that every year during the freshman acceptance process, a select amount of first-year students are invited into the program.

Among the many mentioned benefits of being in the program is that those students selected have priority course registration.

Although Pathways students are told they have priority course registration, often those enrolled in the curriculum still face major difficulties of scheduling the core classes.

An anonymous source, a third-year biology major, came to DePaul as a freshman into the Pathways Honors Program. She wished to remain anonymous over fears that she could potentially risk her status in the college. When she came to DePaul for orientation, she had one of the last advising meetings, but was assured that she would have her place in classes because she was one of the selected freshmen enrolled in the program that guaranteed priority course registration.

When it was time for her to schedule, the general adviser told her that one of her required courses, general chemistry I, was already filled up, she would be on the waitlist and that she little chances of making it into the course. The priority registration that was advertised to incoming Pathways students was misinterpreted, leading to her being mixed into the scheduling process with most freshmen. 

“They told me that chemistry was full,” she said. “They told me they were just going to put me into physics and they did without asking me.”

Emily (whose last name will not be mentioned due to confidentiality), also a junior enrolled as a freshman in the honors program, had a similar experience. She also had one of the last orientation blocks and came in with the assumption of priority registration but couldn’t be enrolled in one of her core classes as well. 

“When I got to the advising appointment during orientation, it said that I was already in general biology, but it didn’t say I was in general chemistry because at the time it was full,” she said. “Pathways seemed to have reserved a spot for me in biology, but it didn’t reserve a spot for me in chemistry.”

According to Emily, she and a few of her classmates had to take chemistry as a sophomore, which she believes made her feel behind compared to other students in her year. When she and other students didn’t reach the grade requirements, she shared that a lot of people fell further behind because when they needed to retake the course, it wasn’t always offered the next quarter since the courses are sequential.

Emily further explained that if one of the core class sequences wasn’t offered for the upcoming quarter, many students had to wait another quarter or a whole academic year to be able to schedule and get a seat in the class they needed to take.

Emily also said that she and many other students took one of the general chemistry courses over the summer to finish the sequence and stay on track with their degree requirements.

David, a third-year biology major as well, but not enrolled as a Pathways student, who also chose not to give his last name, was surprised to hear about the issue of Pathways students not getting into gen-ed classes when he himself did not struggle with cap-sizes.

As a freshman, he felt there was plenty of room in his classes. He shared that he was indeed aware of the cap size issue, but because of the priority registration, Pathways students were given, he was surprised to hear of the situations where some weren’t allowed into their required courses.

David decided to look into the syllabus and class list that he still had from general chemistry class and was shocked to learn that some students were locked out of enrollment because of cap sizes.

After he pulled up his classlist, he shared that his general chemistry I class had only about 60 students in it, and his class was held in one of the Schmitt Academic Center rooms that could fit at least 100 kids in it.

Michael Roberts, assistant dean for academic services in CSH, gave insight into the scheduling process for students in the school.

“There are some student groups that have priority registration,” he said, “including, but

not limited to, students registered with the Center for Students with Disabilities, student athletes, Strobel Honors, University Honors and Pathways Honors.”

Students have consistently struggled or observed fellow students struggling to get into basic gen-ed classes in the past few quarters when they noticed required courses, such as general chemistry, being capped off at around 50 to 70 people when lecture halls that had a capacity as low as 95 to 100 people could clearly fit more students.

In 2009, DePaul built McGowan South — the $40 million, four-story science facility that features more than 30 labs, as well as lecture halls that can fit a range of students as low as 95 to as high as 152. DePaul’s page for room rental rates shows that the university contains large and small auditoriums in Arts and Letters Hall and Schmitt Academic Center that can fit as low as 100 students and as high as 224.

The first anonymous source mentioned above shared that amongst fellow students in CSH,  freshmen especially complain and worry about cap sizes because they are the first ones required to take core classes before taking advanced classes. She said that freshmen complaints include that after one minute passes once course enrollment opens, classes are already full and capped no matter how fast students try to enroll. She said that departments have been known to reopen cap sizes for students and create more sections, but even so, it causes unnecessary anxiety amongst students as well as discouragement for the science curriculum.

Although students in CSH also complain about typical college conflicts such as advising, workload and exam curves, it still seems that there is a common thread of complaints about strict cap-sized core classes and students’ inabilities to schedule into them.

Quinetta Shelby, department chair for chemistry and biochemistry, explained how cap sizes are created for both general chemistry lecture and laboratory courses.

“The enrollment cap is set by the lab space (a maximum of 24 students can safely occupy the general chemistry labs), the number of instructors available to teach the course sections and the number of classrooms with an over 50 occupant capacity that can be available for each quarter,” she said.

Shelby also said that in order to try to accommodate as many students as possible each year, the department opens and offers several sections of general chemistry courses each quarter and offers on-sequence (autumn, winter and spring) and off-sequence (winter, spring and autumn) classes.