Outbidding the competition – Getting into classes is getting harder at SAIS DC

by Yilin Wang

February 1, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Twice a year, SAISers put their economics curriculum to the test; seeking to optimize a bidding strategy with minimized cost. However, it seems that composing such a strategy is proving increasingly difficult. The price inflation on classes have run students dry of opportunity and more classes are going to bid.

If you download the historical bidding report and look closely at the courses that go to bid every year, you will notice an upward trend in clearing prices. It might be hard to imagine now that “Risk Analysis and Modeling” clears at merely 203 points – which was the case about six years ago. The price for this class has reached 900 in fall 2019. 

Similarly, “Financial Crises, Emerging Markets and Policy Dilemmas” in the Latin American Studies program has experienced a price inflation from 226 in 2016 to 656 in 2018. As clearing prices for popular classes increase, the “purchasing power” of our bid points decrease. Perhaps it’s time that the school considers a price-adjusted allocation system of bid points. 

This year, a total of 18 sections are going to bid in round 2, a record high number since spring 2015, including some seminar-style classes that rarely went to bid in the past. Among these sections there is “Asian Security Energy,” which was last up for bid in the fall of 2013, as well as “Humanitarian, Aid & Politics,” whose last bid time was in 2011. Both courses have been taught consistently by the same professor and offered regularly over the years, begging an analysis between the growing competitiveness of the bidding process and perhaps an unaddressed student capacity issue on campus. 

Granted, the school has taken measure to ease the pressure of bidding by giving second-year students priority in classes within their concentrations. However, what this means is that for some classes, the prioritized students would fill up the class so that first-year students (even concentrators), or students outside of the concentration had almost zero chance of taking the class. This issue has caused troubles for many first-year students failing to register for classes even within their concentrations, notably the International Political Economy (IPE) program. 

“We come to SAIS to learn what we’ve chosen to study, and we shouldn’t have to compete to get into the few classes provided or wait until the second year to learn about our concentration. Whether the solution is to give first years priority or to at least allow them priority in a minimum of one course in their concentration per semester, the current system is flawed,” said Brett Solimine, a first-year IPE concentrator. 

According to the statistics acquired from the Registrar Office, while SAIS witnessed roughly 26% increase in student enrollment in the past decade, the sizes of the MA and MIPP program haven’t changed dramatically. So, the cause of the rising price of classes might not necessarily be the larger student body. Instead, possible reasons could simply be a change in students’ preference, and the status quo of bidding at SAIS in which opportunity goes to the highest bidder.