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Department of Physics News

Study: Kent State No. 1 in making physics interesting to non-science majors

Posted Oct. 1, 2009

Popularity of Introductory Physics Courses at US Universities

In September 2009, the American Institute of Physics (AIP) published a new set of statistics in their Survey of Enrollments and Degrees, based on responses from 739 of the 762 physics departments in the US where at least a bachelor's degree is offered. The data presented on this page represent a ten-year average(1), derived from the AIP reports for all academic years since 1998-99. Every physics department with high course enrollments derives all but a very small fraction of its enrollments from introductory classes, and only introductory course enrollments are tabulated here. 


The table above shows the top four US physics departments, in rank order, in terms of enrollments. These enrollments are based on data from more than 700 physics departments nationwide, regardless of the size of the department or the university. To help control for size, the third column lists data on number of physics faculty (separated between regular tenured/tenure-track and all other(2) categories), while the the fourth column provides the total head count of all students on campus. Numbers in the 3rd and 4th columns come from materials submitted by the individual departments to the AIP.

PhysicsIntroEnrollments2In the table opposite, two alternative ways to rank(3) the data in the first table are shown, taking the size of each department and university into account — first, the average annual introductory enrollments are divided by the number of physics faculty (TT + other), and second, the same enrollments are divided by the total student head count of the university (and the ratio is given as a percentage).

According to both methods of normalizing for size, the Kent State Physics Department comes out as #1 in the US for making physics interesting and attractive to non-science majors, by virtue of the fact that the fraction of all students who take at least one physics course is much higher at Kent than at any other comparable university. A closely related conclusion is that we are #1 nationwide in physics instructional productivity.

This impressive record would not be possible without the hugely popular course Seven Ideas, or without the efforts of our instructors John Barrick and Tom Emmons, and of Prof. Jon Secaur; between them, they have taught most of the sections of Seven Ideas during the surveyed time period. Our physics chair Bryon Anderson also deserves recognition as one of the original developers of the course and a co-author of the Seven Ideas textbook (along with Emeritus Prof. Nathan Spielberg). Thirdly, it should be noted that various members of the faculty help maintain the vitality and popularity of our introductory courses such as Seven Ideas through their efforts on development and updating of demos, planetarium shows, and other resources.

(1) Urbana-Champaign data were not reported for two years during the survey period, and so IU-UC enrollments are an eight-year average.
(2) The category "other faculty" as reported to AIP includes non-TT instructors and part-time instructors. A few departments like Central Florida use this category to report faculty with joint appointments in physics and another unit, and such faculty typically do not teach physics courses. However, for the great majority of departments, "TT + other" gives the most reasonable estimate of total instructional faculty.
(3) Note that the first table is based on an analysis of all 700+ physics departments in the US, whereas the second table ranks only the four departments from the first table.