One of the main reasons that I enrolled at Kenyon College was because I believed I would be able to take a variety of classes across disciplines throughout my four years. I am from England, where college students can only focus on one subject, so coming to Kenyon I was excited to try many different courses. Despite my initial excitement, in my sophomore year it has become clear that the variety of courses Kenyon claims to offer is not accessible. Instead they depend on students being willing to fight tooth and nail for popular classes and settle on courses they would never have independently taken. If Kenyon cannot fulfill its promise to provide an adequate number of courses, it should enroll fewer students or increase the number of faculty.
I started college confident that I wanted to major in studio art. Specifically, I knew I wanted to specialize in drawing and painting. So naturally, I placed Drawing I (ARTS 102) as my top choice class in my first round of selections during course registration. Much to my disappointment, I did not get a seat in the class.
After talking to some upperclassmen, I quickly became aware that not getting into the classes that you wanted is a common occurrence on this campus. In fact, especially in subjects like studio art and English, it seems near impossible to get into your first-choice class.
Come spring semester, the exact same thing happened again. Now, one year later — after quite literally begging the professor over email — I finally enrolled in Drawing I. I was only able to get in because I want to major in the subject; if I just wanted to take this class for diversification or simple interest, I would have been rejected. Despite waiting a full year to take the intro course for my major, I am still lucky. One girl in my class has only just been able to enroll during her senior year.
Many students are even more unlucky. Six additional students showed up to the first Drawing I class of the semester, hoping to get a spot. My professor checked her watch and pulled out a small sheet of paper with a list of names on it. She then proceeded to read the names on her waitlist and add the first four students present to the class. The student who had the number one spot on the waitlist showed up five minutes late to class and found that his spot had been given to someone else. I’ve never seen someone look so dejected. It made me wonder how long he had been trying to get into this class, just to have it snatched away in some cut-throat, Hunger-Games-esque enrollment system.
I understand that class size is kept purposefully small to maintain a level of care and attention to each student, and I don’t blame professors for their role in the class enrollment process, as they are simply abiding by the parameters that the College has set for them. My professor was just doing what she could with the situation she was given. However, the College needs to understand the cost of continually overenrolling students without instituting structural changes.
It is senseless to offer only one section of a particular class each semester, particularly one with a restriction of a mere 20 spaces per class. It is worse when you factor in that 10 of the 20 spots are reserved for first years (put that in the context of a student body of nearly 2,000 students). In the case of Drawing I, the impact of these parameters is enormous because it is a prerequisite for any art class above the intro level.
Essentially, because of the way Kenyon neglects class availability, I will be taking the higher-level art classes that I have wanted to take from the beginning more than halfway through my college experience (if I can even get into them).
I am fully aware that my complaints come from a place of immense privilege, and that access to private higher education is only available to a minority of people. Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely grateful to receive this education. However, I am also aware that this college charges us $80,100 a year for that access. For the cost of Kenyon, and frankly any college, students should be entitled to certain standards. The most basic of these standards is access to the education they are paying for. Why should we have to compete with our peers in a chaotic rat-race to get into every class that we want or need?
While parts of my Kenyon experience have been amazing, I can’t help but feel disappointed in Kenyon’s course availability. Until Kenyon can provide students with the necessary infrastructure, they need to hire more professors, enroll fewer students or stop claiming to offer unattainable classes.