Bio changes cause spike in enrollment

High enrollment in the new introductory biology sequence has put pressure on departments to find classroom space.
High enrollment in the new introductory biology sequence has put pressure on departments to find classroom space. Photo by Sarah Eckinger.

After reformatting introductory-level biology courses this fall, the University has seen substantial growth in the enrollment of those classes.

Introductory biology courses faced logistical challenges throughout shopping period as demand repeatedly exceeded the capacity of the lecture halls assigned to those courses. The spike in enrollment was largely caused by new prerequisites for the molecular, cellular and developmental biology, ecology and evolutionary biology, and molecular biophysics and biochemistry majors and an influx of students who did not pass the biology placement exam introduced this fall. While MCDB Director of Undergraduate Studies Douglas Kankel said the department expected a large number of students not to pass the placement test, he said he was surprised by how many freshmen choose to enroll in introductory courses rather than waiting to take them during sophomore year.

“From our perspective, the students going through this intro sequence are going to be better trained,” Kankel said. “But we were surprised by the size of the introductory course.”

Both of this semester’s introductory biology courses — “Biochemistry and Biophysics” and “Cell Biology and Membrane Physiology” — were originally scheduled to meet in Osborne Memorial Laboratories, but many students were forced to wait outside when hundreds showed up on the first day. The classes were moved to Battell Chapel for their second meeting and then transferred to the Law School auditorium, where they have remained since.

Kankel said around 75 percent of students who scored a five on the Advanced Placement biology exam did not pass Yale’s placement test. But he said that filtering students into the introductory courses will help them develop a common foundation in biology, allowing professors of 200-level biology courses to teach more in-depth material.

Angela Chen ’16, who did not pass the exam, said it was difficult because it tested her on applying concepts to specific experiments, rather than on remembering general facts, as the AP exam did.

“I’m very mixed about the system,” Chen said. “I think it’s good [that] everyone starts on the same slate. However, I think I’d rather take courses on biology that I don’t already know. A lot of what we’re learning now I already knew from AP biology.”

Kankel and EEB Director of Undergraduate Studies Thomas Near both said their departments have not encountered any room scheduling problems this fall aside from the issues with introductory classes. Still, Kankel added that he feels there is mounting pressure to expand Yale’s science teaching facilities — especially in terms of laboratory space.

“All of us are enthusiastic in seeing an expansion in enrollment, but that is going to increase the pressures on teaching facilities,” Kankel said. “The space either has to be created by substantial renovations to existing facilities or by building new facilities, and both are costly.”

The University began planning to construct the Yale Biology Building to provide new research space for the biology departments more than 10 years ago, but the project was put on hold when the recession hit in 2008. Associate Provost for Science and Technology Timothy O’Connor said the building remains a top priority, though the timeline for its construction remains unknown because of insufficient financing. The classrooms in Osborne Memorial Laboratories are scheduled to be renovated next summer.

Comments

  • inycepoo

    Though Angela Chen’s quote probably defines how a lot of freshmen view the new intro courses in biology, Kankel’s point definitely trumps in this case. The professors of 200-level courses never really know what level they should start off with due to the varying backgrounds of every in class. It’s rather frustrating for most students in the class, some of whom find the material too hard, and some too easy. AP Bio at one high school does not equate AP Bio at another, and let’s face it: the actual AP test itself is a joke, so 5s on that “exam” mean even less. Filtering everyone through the same courses will really make the upper-level MCDB courses that much better. Plus, it’s only the second week of classes; I’m sure the intro BIOL courses will pick up in no time, and freshmen only stand to benefit, imho.

    Go MCDB.

  • chorleywood

    It’s not only biology among the sciences that is seeing a larger than expected enrollment. This year the combined enrollment across all 4 flavors of introductory physics is close to 500 students.