High Enrollment Philosophy Courses


We, like I’m sure lots of other departments, are suffering from decreasing enrollment numbers. I was wondering if you could do a post asking people about their department’s high-enrollment/bread and butter courses. — a professor who does not care to make his particular department look bad in front of everyone (not that I’m sure it would, but okay).

Are there specific courses your department offers that routinely get high enrollment? In answering, it would be useful if you could note how close that class comes to being a required course for most who take it (that is, does it fulfill a requirement? Is it one of just a few courses offered at any one time that students can take to fulfill the requirement?). More generally, if you have advice based on successes in getting more students to take philosophy courses, it would be great to hear what you did. Does your department reach out to undergraduates with flyers, tabling in well-trafficked areas on campus, visits to high schools, etc.? What has worked?

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J C McG
J C McG
6 years ago

A friend of mine started teaching the philosophy of love in a small university last year and it received record enrolment. One more reason why philosophers should spend time on such important and general topics.Report

Nathan Kellen
Nathan Kellen
6 years ago

At UConn we run four different “megas” (320 person courses) with varying frequency. Our ‘Social Ethics and Philosophy’ is the most common, and is offered each semester, sometimes by two different people. This course fulfils a general requirement for any student, and is a required course for all engineering and nursing students. We also run ‘Philosophy and Logic’, ‘Philosophy and Gender’ and ‘Intro to Philosophy’, although not necessarily each semester. Each of these fulfils a general requirement (and sometimes a different one than the ethics course), but I don’t believe any of them are required for any particular majors. I’ve never heard of anyone doing any recruiting, and there’s not much need; each course fills up nearly instantly.

Note: I’m a grad student, and so don’t know much about any of the course development, and may be mistaken about some of the above.Report

Patricia Marino
6 years ago

I teach Philosophy of Sex and Love every year, and while it’s not enormous, it always fills up past the 40 student cap we have on it. Also, it attracts lots of women and students who represent diversity along multiple dimensions. It does satisfy a requirement for a small program, but the majority of students are there out of interest.

As co-President of the Society for the Philosophy of Sex and Love, I’ll add that anyone interested in teaching such a course should check out our society’s resource page, where we’ve posed syllabi of courses taught by members of the society. http://philosophyofsexandlove.org/resources/Report

James Rocha
James Rocha
6 years ago

I’m at Louisiana State University. Our Gen. Ed. courses that get high enrollments are: Intro to Philosophy (maybe 300 students spread out across multiple sections), Intro to Ethics (200, also spread out), and Intro to Logic (about 150 in one large course). We have other GE’s that bring in about 50 when we teach them. Our non-GE’s that bring in good numbers are Bioethics (55), Professional/Engineering Ethics (though we were later asked to make this into a GE, 55), Philosophy of Film (60-75), and Existentialism (40). I’ve started up a Philosophy & Pop Culture, which I would like to get high numbers without making it a GE, but so far I’m only getting about 30-35 there. I tried Environmental Ethics, and that didn’t get enough students and had to be cancelled before the semester started.

At LSU, our budget crisis is quite severe (education in Louisiana is facing as much as 500-600 million in cuts), and we have been working quite hard to save ourselves from cuts. We have tried nearly everything we could think of. I found that tabling has never achieved anything. I just sit at a table at some recruitment event and not a single student talks to me. I put together a brochure, and we place that on the wall by our main office, along with a bunch of flyers relating to various ways philosophy fits with distinct careers and majors (we push hard to sell ourselves as the ‘perfect second major’). Students are slowly but definitely taking those brochures. We have yet to advertise to high schools, but have talked about it a lot.

The single thing that has been the most successful is advertising in our own classes. I made a PowerPoint presentation on the virtues of a philosophy major, and faculty members split up those large classes and deliver the presentation. We aim to deliver it once our schedule for the next semester is set, but before students have likely chosen their classes. My thinking is that if I can convince them to take one more philosophy class, then they are on their way to at least a minor, and hopefully a major. When we were doing all of these recruitment methods very actively (tabling, brochures, flyers, and presentations), our majors jumped about 25-30%. When we slowed down, we saw a decline (maybe 10-15% down as students graduated and weren’t replaced at the same levels). So, I think some of this must be working.

My next step is to start a special concentration in Law, Ethics, and Social Justice. I’m also trying to get a TV for the hallway. I think I could reach students much better with a TV (and a Raspberry Pi) displaying our flyers rather than just sticking them to walls, but budget cuts and all.Report

Grad Sockpuppet
Grad Sockpuppet
6 years ago

Aesthetics courses are generally pretty good, at least when they’re not just Plato/Kant/Hegel courses.Report

Josh May
6 years ago

We’ve succumbed to the pressure to run some online courses (esp. bioethics). They’ve been enrolling quite well. Having more classes on TR (as opposed to MWF) also seems to help. We’re also trying in all our Intro classes to give a spiel about the value of studying philosophy (emphasizing transferable skills), including having a common PowerPoint set to work from. A large and flourishing Phil Club also seems to help spread the good word. But I think nothing beats excellent teaching that gets students excited about the material.Report

MA-Student
MA-Student
6 years ago

Phil Religion. Especially if you have a religion department to cross-reference it with.Report

Eddy Nahmias
6 years ago

I created this powerpoint for instructors to show in our two highly enrolled (b/c in core curriculum) courses: Critical Thinking and Intro to Philosophy: http://philosophy.gsu.edu/files/2014/03/What-is-Philosophy-Good-For-2015-mac.pdf (email me if you want it is ppt form). We show it during registration for the next term and try to encourage students to consider philosophy as a double major or minor. As James at LSU points out, most students, esp in big public institutions, are encouraged to pick majors early and status quo bias, perhaps sunk cost fallacy, keeps them from changing major to philosophy. This is a significant disadvantage for us because philosophy is not taught in high school–indeed, in a huge data base of over 2 million college students obtained by our MA student Chris Dobbs, only 0.33% came into college with intention to major in philosophy (by the way, of those only 1/3 were women, suggesting that the disproportionately low number of women phil majors is starting early–for that reason, one of the goals of our ppt and discussion is to avoid reinforcing the schema of philosophy as male). It also doesn’t help that philosophy courses likely have lower average grades than our competitor majors (in humanities and social sciences), and that both drives away some students and causes advisors to tell students to stay away from philosophy. I’m not suggesting we lower our grading standards, but others have, and it hurts us.Report

femfilosofer
femfilosofer
6 years ago

I’m at a small, Catholic, liberal arts school in the Great Lakes region. There are two trends we see in enrollment. 1) There are certain topics that fill up quickly: Philosophy of Gender/Feminist Philosophy, Theories of Justice, Philosophy of Race and some Ethics courses (these all fulfill some kind of Gen Ed requirement); and 2) There are certain instructors who could fill a class no matter the topic. Much of course enrollment at this small college comes via word of mouth from other students.Report

Eric Schwitzgebel
6 years ago

I designed a class called “Evil” which is taught twice a year and draws 200-500 students each time, mostly students who are looking for a lower-division general ed course and are intrigued by the title and course description. It’s a rewarding class to teach! I discuss philosophical traditions about evil and “human nature”, literature on racial lynching and the Holocaust, contemporary empirical moral psychology, and theodicy. I’m happy to send a syllabus to anyone who wants. (Email me at my main faculty address on my department homepage.)Report

harry b
6 years ago

Most philosophy departments do not offer classes that fulfill ethnic studies requirements (or the equivalent). The instruction in such courses is so…diverse (if you’ll forgive the pun)…. that if your department could offer a high quality course that would meet that requirement in your institution, you’d attract considerable enrollments. Of course, that would require somebody becoming expert enough in non-white philosophical traditions to teach such a course well, but some might say that would be a welcome consequence of trying to raise enrollments.Report