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Enrollment tools support communication instruction

New system enables a more efficient and transparent enrollment process for communication-intensive subjects.

This fall, students and instructors were introduced to a new enrollment process for communication-intensive humanities, arts, and social sciences (CI-H) subjects, which are part of the undergraduate Communication Requirement. CI-H subjects focus on the development of oral and written communication skills, and include a subset, CI-HW subjects, that focus specifically on the writing process. Each section is capped at 18 or 25 students to provide more opportunities for student interaction with their instructor and classmates and to facilitate communication instruction.

In the past, enrollments in many CI-H subjects were managed through the HASS-D lottery. Students who were not scheduled into a subject via the lottery resorted to finding openings “on foot” by attending classes and asking instructors for permission to add the subjects. This could be stressful for students, especially freshmen, since they had no insight into whether they had any chance of being offered a spot. It also created a burden on instructors who had to manage these requests individually, both responding to add/drop requests and attempting to enforce enrollment caps. As a result, class lists could not be finalized for several class meetings. With the end of the HASS-D lottery (due to the phase-out of HASS-D subjects), new enrollment tools were needed for CI-H subjects, which provided an opportunity to address some of these concerns.

A clearer and more informed process for students

The new enrollment system enables a more transparent and consistent process in which students have greater control. As a first step, a CI-H/HW Subject Selector tool was introduced as part of pre-registration last spring. The tool enables students to indicate their first-choice subjects and also select alternatives. Automatic, personalized messages help students and advisors make appropriate subject selections. As one student explained in a survey of users, “Selecting subjects with alternatives was very helpful! I explored more possible options and I felt more confident that I would secure a space in at least one subject I wanted to take.”  

When scheduling occurs, the subject selections are prioritized based on guidelines set by the Faculty Subcommittee on the Communication Requirement (SOCR). The goal is to ensure that students required to complete a CI-H subject  are able to register for one more easily. This fall, 89 percent of students who used the Subject Selector were scheduled into one of their primary or alternative choices. The enhanced algorithm also eliminates the possibility of oversubscription by enforcing enrollment caps. Students scheduled into a CI-H/HW subject are assured a seat.

After schedules are run, students who still need to add a CI-H/HW subject use new online waitlists to search for openings and add or delete enrollment requests. For each subject, students can see the number of openings, the number of students waitlisted, and their own priority group placement. This enables students to make informed decisions that optimize potential enrollment. In the fall, 54 percent of waitlisted students put themselves on one waitlist while another 20 percent put themselves on two, suggesting that most students were targeting only the waitlists of subjects they wanted to take. A student commented on the waitlists, “Loved how transparent it was and how clear it was where the enrollment stood.”  

A consistent way for instructors to offer enrollment

With the introduction of the online waitlists, CI-H/HW instructors use a more consistent and streamlined waitlist management process. For their subjects, they can view enrollment requests and openings, identify students to prioritize, and make and view enrollment offers. When a student is offered enrollment, the system automatically generates an email offer to the student. As students accept enrollment offers or remove themselves from the waitlists, the online waitlists are dynamically updated. Instructors can continue to build their class lists until their enrollment caps are met. During the fall, 67 percent of waitlisted students received offers for enrollment, most of which were made by the end of the first week of classes. By add date, 26 percent of the enrollments in CI-H/HW subjects came from waitlists. Professor Emma Teng noted, “The new system has made all the difference. It has eliminated the chaos and stress of trying to sort out student enrollments the first day of class, and streamlined the entire process so that I can focus on what I’m supposed to be doing — teaching.” 

Improvements in spring CI-H/HW enrollment

As pre-registration for spring semester began on Dec. 1, the next phase of the Enrollment Tools pilot is underway. In order to receive prioritized scheduling, students must use the Subject Selector to choose CI-H/HW subjects by Wednesday, Dec. 31. The new CI-H/HW enrollment process incudes an earlier pre-registration deadline to both encourage students to review selections with advisors and to provide departments with more timely data on student interest.

Overall, the initial pilot was a success; 84 percent of students responding to a survey said they were “able to enroll in the CI-H/HW subject(s) I wanted” and 50 percent of instructors said it took less effort to establish a final roster of enrolled students. In response to users’ suggestions, enhancements are being developed. For spring, they include improved options for instructors to communicate with students on the waitlists and better integration with the scheduling and add/drop systems.

One challenge is getting students to promptly drop CI-H/HW subjects they don’t plan to take. Because enrollment caps are enforced, instructors cannot offer enrollment from a waitlist unless a spot is open. Historically, one student's enrollment has not had an effect on another student's enrollment. As the spring semester begins, an awareness campaign will aim to educate and encourage students to be diligent about dropping unwanted subjects.   

The Enrollment Tools pilot is part of the Education Systems Roadmap, an ongoing effort to modernize and enhance applications and processes central to MIT’s Student Information Systems (SIS). The Enrollment Tools Project Team, which is co-led by Information Services and Technology and the Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education, welcomes feedback or suggestions on the project at any time by emailing

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