Computer science classes continue to be filled to capacity

By Miguel Lopez

Every year hundreds of freshmen come to UCI with hopes of majoring in Computer Science through the Donald Bren School of Computer Science. In recent years, computer science degrees have become increasingly popular at universities, with schools like Princeton declaring it their top major. A graduate can expect a high paying job in a field with high demand; the challenge is getting accepted to a CS program.

A 2017 Peterson’s  poll reported an 11% acceptance rate into UCI’s  school of computer science. This means that of the 3,994 students that applied that year only 459 were accepted.

Because of the known narrow acceptance rates for ICS, some students apply to UCI as undeclared majors, hoping to finagle their way into the ICS program.

Entry into ICS classes for non-majors is a lottery. It’s a common conversation all around campus — “‘Were you able to get into 31?’ ‘ Classes filled up within minutes.’ ‘WebReg crashed again.’”

In an effort to try and accommodate students the ICS program reserves a specific number of seats for non enrolled ICS students, which are offered to the various schools within UCI; ICS invites schools to fill these seats with their top students who are looking to transfer into ICS.

This attempt to alleviate enrollment congestion hardly helps. The fact is the major is impacted. There is just not enough space to accommodate students attempting to crash the major.

In theory, ICS would offer any extra seats to any person attempting to enroll in an ICS class. However, students have complained that shortly after the school’s web registrar restriction to outside majors is lifted, the classes in demand are already full.

Winter 2019, for example, ICS 31 is filling only 280 total seats of the 344 seat capacity room, HSLH 100A.  

While 280 seats may sound like a lot of space, it’s nowhere near enough to accommodate the students requesting it.

Limited space calls into question the extra 64 seats not in use.

According to Priscilla De Lara, an undergraduate counselor for the school of ICS, class capacity is based on the seat availability for the course’s corresponding lab not the lecture room itself and therefore the lab will generally hold less students than the lecture.

It would be expected that lab rooms are packed to capacity at around forty students a lab, and about 7 labs a lecture, so the lecture hall’s limited seating would make sense.

However, this is not the case; labs are not filled to capacity either.

De Lara explains that each individual professor sets the lab’s capacity, and thereby the class capacity. Professors base available lab seats on variables such as class size and course rigor.

Based on this information one would expect consistency in seat availability; shouldn’t a single lab’s rigor and class space be equal throughout the offered sections? Moreover, if class size is the obstacle why not move smaller ICS classes into a larger lecture hall?

In a recent “Ask the ICS Dean” talk that was shared to students via the UCI Reddit page, ICS senators Bryant Gunaman and Priyanka Saba brought up several questions relating to class availability.

In response, Gunaman posted on Reddit that Dean Marios Papaefthymiou is aware of the issue and “is planning to add eight more Professors of Teaching” that will prioritize teaching undergraduates over research obligations to the university.

Two job listings have appeared following this post. One listing for part-time lecturers and another for full-time lecturers. Those posts have since been removed.

Five new professors have already been hired this year alone, but even with the eight professors it is likely that many students will still be unable to get into core classes, the biggest hurdle being ICS 31.

In an attempt to avoid the struggle of ICS 31 there is an option to test directly into ICS 32.

However, this option is inopportune for many students, foremost because the test is only available once a year, in fall quarter. Second, success on the test requires basic knowledge in a programming language, Python, as well as a demonstration of mastery of the fundamentals of computer science taught in ICS 31.

The pursuit for an impacted major is an unfortunate reality for undeclared students chasing a CS major. In speaking with peer academic advisors for undeclared students interesting in transferring to a CS major, it’s apparent that some students have no back-up major in mind, with the hope of entering the program.

The effects of limited class seating cannot be reduced to a universities logistical issue. It has human impacts. Limited class seating is a demonstration of a school denying students who are willing and wanting to do the work the opportunity because there aren’t enough seats.


Editor’s Note – This post has been updated to fix grammatical errors as well as clarify certain points including a poll stating an 11% acceptance rate and correctly attributing the quote from a Reddit post and which peer advisors were spoken to. Additionally, Priscilla De Lara was incorrectly quoted as having said “When you add up all the lab space for the class, held in ICS 364A, the number totals to an even 280 seats.” This quote has been removed from the piece.