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Credit: Gillian Diebold

Penn is planning to renumber all of its course numbers from three to four digits starting in fall 2021.

The change aims to prevent confusion for students registering for courses and increase convenience for professors, Penn registration officials said. The highest-level course available within each department will change from 999 to 9999.  

This change will be applicable to all 12 schools across the University at the undergraduate and graduate levels, University Registrar Margaret Kip said. Students will see the changes in spring 2021 when they register for summer and fall classes, Executive Director for Academic Technology and Planning from the Office of the Provost Rob Nelson said. All courses will be officially replaced with four numbers by fall 2021, Kip said. 

Some departments currently label advanced seminars between course codes 410 and 430. With only 20 available spots, two distinct courses offered in two different semesters may share the same course number, which can be confusing for students, Nelson said.

The restructuring of course numbers will vary by school. Small schools such as the School of Social Policy & Practice, which only offers graduate-level courses, may approach the new policy differently than the School of Arts and Sciences, which has more complex course offerings, Kip said. 

The highest-level course available within each department will change from 999 to 9999.  

“It’s that fine line that everyone is trying to walk between so much structure that it’s too rigid, and so little structure that there’s no speed to be found within it,” Kip said. “You can’t do anything efficiently if it’s just random numbers everywhere.”

Kip added that numbering courses is like a taxonomy and one objective is for users to hone in on information quickly and navigate to what they are interested in understanding.

Not all the courses, however, will be renumbered, Kip said. Some courses may retain their old course labels if departments and schools attach zeroes in front of or behind the current version, Kip added. 

While current courses that start with the number five are typically graduate-level classes, Kip said the University still has not decided if the new system will retain this rule.

“I don’t think that decision has been made. That’s one of the things that has been talked about and thought about,” Kip said.

College freshman Hiba Hamid said that she is indifferent about the change and said she could adjust to the new system over time.

“I hope that once this change does take effect, it’s explained and that students can really understand because even now, I still have confusion sometimes when signing up for courses,” College sophomore Amelia Mauldin said.