COLLEGE PARK -- Midway into registration for spring courses, students at the University of Maryland's largest campus are already finding some courses full or closed.
A shortage of faculty members caused by budget cuts has shaved the number of seats available in required junior-year English courses by 1,500. At least 1,000 fewer seats are available for an advanced-studies course required for seniors.
Anticipating problems, university administrators have put a clamp on course-shopping by students by limiting the number of credits a student can sign up for. They also have rationed seats so that space will be left for first- and second-year students.
But even after making exceptions to get seniors into classes, graduation still could be delayed for some. With tuition up 15 percent, that is hurting them in the pocketbook.
"It's horrible," said Rebecca Wenk, 21, a senior psychology major who found herself on a waiting list last week for two of the four courses she wants to take.
"They are telling people classes are closed when they are really not, but they may not have the money to offer them," she said. "We're registering for classes before we even know if they will be there when we come back." Ms. Wenk said she had planned to graduate this summer but won't be able to because the courses she wants -- they are not required -- were unavailable.
A decline in the number of academic offerings is one of the issues that led students to stage a spontaneous rally on campus 10 days ago.
Tomorrow,the English department faculty plans to begin an unprecedented two-day work stoppage to draw attention to the impact of $40 million in budget cuts on the quality of education at the 35,000-student campus.
Students are planning a rally in Annapolis Thursday.
Courses in the humanities and social sciences, which are open to the general student body as well as to those majoring in the areas, are in shortest supply.
Hardest hit are courses in politics, psychology, criminal justice, economics and English, which supplies freshman composition and professional writing, two of three courses required for graduation, said J. Robert Dorfman, provost and chief academic officer. "The junior writing program is becoming more of a senior writing program," he said.
Dr. Dorfman said there is no precise estimate of the number of classes in short supply. A few weeks ago, the university was offering 180 fewer sections -- and several thousand fewer seats -- than at this time last year, he said. But more courses were opened Thursday when the university moved resources and professors to areas of heavy demand.
"It's a moving target," said Mary Ann Granger, assistant director of records and registration, who oversees the course sign-up for 900 students a day.
On two days recently, anxious students streamed into Ms. Granger's offices at orderly 15-minute intervals to find out whether the courses they wanted were available. They worked with a battery of clerks in command of computers capable of finding alternatives that meet university requirements and fit into students' schedules.
Even those who got the courses they wanted weren't totally relieved.
"People are worried it still could change," said Lou Kawlra, 21, a senior consumer economics major who is on a waiting list for an English course.
Despite tension and frustration over new registration rules, students expressed happy surprise when they were able to take the courses they wanted and kept stiff upper lips when inconvenienced or disappointed by waiting lists or closed sections.
When 20-year-old Gwen Preisinger, a junior, found out she was No. 6 on a waiting list for a government and politics course, she was all smiles.
"I'm kind of glad," she said, noting that the department has restricted access to upper-level courses because of demand. Being so high on the waiting list, she said, is a relief.
Students trying to finish college in less than four years said they felt penalized by the 16-credit maximum. Elliot Leibowitz, for instance, planned to be out and working by September, but now he is not sure he'll make it. "I'm worried," he said.
But Jim Murry, 26, a production management major in the College of Business and Management, said the rule was the reason he was able to get into classes without a wait for the first time. "It's actually a benefit because so many people oversubscribe," he said. Students who want to take more than 16 credits can check in again in January after all other students are registered.
For an unknown number of students, the course shortage is raising the price of college.
Linette Gonzalez, 20, a second-semester junior English major, said she didn't get any of the courses she wanted. She can't be on a waiting list because she is from Texas and won't be here in early January to sign in as required.
"It's creating a dilemma. It means summer school," she said, adding that the prospect is especially costly for out-of-state students, whose tuition goes up $2,000 next semester.