January
31st 2009
The wolf is at the door, and she wants you to get busy with homework

Posted under: jobs, students

State and university budget worries are in the air.  So far at Baa Ram U., we haven’t been told exactly how bad it will be, but there are committees currently contemplating a salary cut for faculty.  No one is talking about firing adjuncts and non tenure-track faculty and raising everyone else’s teaching loads, like they are at some universities.   (Of course, this economic depression may drive students away from college, which will make teaching load increases pointless.)  The happy phrase that I’ve heard lately is that the strategy will be to cut “programs, not people,” which seems humane, fair, and reasonable.

On the question of raising teaching loads:  my upper-level classes are officially capped at 40, but I have now only 25 students in my upper-level course this term.  That’s about par for me, and I chalk it up to the fact that I have weekly reading and writing assignments, the first of which is due on the second day of class.  When I teach the surveys, which are capped at 123, I usually have only 90-100 students who finish the course.  (And among them, about 20% get Ds or Fs, so I wonder why they show up for the final exam at all.)  I’ve discovered recently that lots of us regular faculty have no more than 25-35 students in our capped-at-40 classes, probably because their syllabi look like mine.  If the university decides that it needs more courses, I would hope they’d take a look at all of those seats a-wasting in our classes.  The problem seems to be that 30-35% of our students don’t want to work all that hard or show up to class, both of which are required in my classes.

Do your courses fill and stay filled?  (I’ve heard from friends at other universities that students register for more courses than they actually take, so that they can stay eligible for financial aid.  This seems like a really stupid plan–incurring debt for courses that you don’t complete–but then Historiann has never understood why people rack up credit card debt either.)  Could one benefit of a depression be that those students who have the luxury of remaining in college might actually buckle down and get ‘er done?

11 Comments »

11 Responses to “The wolf is at the door, and she wants you to get busy with homework”

  1. Tenured Radical on 31 Jan 2009 at 1:15 pm #

    I think the early periods are generally less popular with students: it’s true at Zenith, anyway.

    TR

  2. meg on 31 Jan 2009 at 1:27 pm #

    My last quarter of college, I wanted to take only two classes, only one which I needed to graduate. But I discovered that the university would cut my need-based grants if I went down to two courses, meaning I would actually have to take out another loan to be able to pay for just the two. To avoid acquiring extra debt, I registered for another class (a large lecture course), and withdrew part-way through the quarter, allowing me to keep my grants.

    So the truth is the financial aid system does not help here. It may be different at your institution, but where I attended, students adding the extra course weren’t acquiring more debt – they were avoiding it.

    -meg (a new reader)

  3. Notorious Ph.D. on 31 Jan 2009 at 3:22 pm #

    My colleagues and I are feeling the enrollment crunch: upper-division courses with 40-person caps normally enroll at about 30, and are now down to 20. So my admittedly anecdotal evidence suggests that, since the syllabus has stayed the same, it’s more about students who can’t afford to enroll in as many courses anymore.

    (Of course, one of my senior colleagues suggests that if I were less harsh with the grading, and more lenient with grad admissions, my courses would be as highly-enrolled as his. But this is the same colleague who has found ways to tell me that taking a fellowship leave last year is responsible for my lower than usual numbers this year, with the strong implication that I won’t want to do that ever again if I know what’s good for me, so I just shine it on.)

  4. ortho stice on 31 Jan 2009 at 3:29 pm #

    At Concrete University, every undergraduate history class is filled to its capacity. Despite the Department’s small army of adjunct instructors — the number of people assigned to the adjunct office violates fire code — undergraduate students continue to get shut out of required classes. The faculty in the Department either need to teach a heavier load, or the University must hire more full-time instructors. But in reality, what is the incentive for University bureaucrats to hire more faculty. After all, for every class a student gets shut out of, s/he will have to delay graduation and register for yet another semester of class — i.e., continue to pay tuition.

    OS

  5. Historiann on 31 Jan 2009 at 3:39 pm #

    TR, I think you’re right, but since it costs $38,364 to attend Zenith (tuition alone), and it costs about $4,424 (again, tuition alone) for a full-time, in-state student to attend Baa Ram U., my guess is that your classes overall have a lot fewer withdrawls and failures because each class costs approximately 8.6 times as much as Baa Ram U. classes. (This is one argument, in my opinion, for raising tuition dramatically here, and redistributing at least half of it to poor but deserving students who will actually, you know, come to class and do the work.)

    Meg, thanks for stopping by to comment, and for providing more context for this. While I’d surely rather teach 25 than 40 students in a class, it seems to me to be wasteful of a university’s resources to have to plan to teach more and larger classes than actually fill, even if students aren’t blowing someone else’s money or taking on debt.

    And Notorious–yes, if you had no standards I’m sure you’d be extremely popular! I bet if you went to class naked, you’d get tons of attention, too. I personally hold the line and kick butts for purely selfish reasons of not wanting to have to work with unserious students, but I’m happy to cop to more altruistic ones if necessary–”maintaining standards,” and “preserving the intellectual integrity of the college experience,” etc. And yet somehow, your colleague seems much more cynical than I…

  6. GayProf on 31 Jan 2009 at 4:36 pm #

    Unlike my previous post (where seats in my classes were oversold worse than at Delta Airlines), I have had a heck of a time filling my classes to the cap at my new gig. I’m not sure why the difference.

  7. Historiann on 31 Jan 2009 at 5:22 pm #

    GayProf, maybe you should lower your clothing coverage standards, like Notorious?

    Ortho’s Concrete U. sounds like GayProf’s previous gig, and GayProf’s current gig sounds like my scene at Baa Ram U.–I wonder why the discrepancy in course enrollments? (I know it’s not because your current gig is as inexpensive as BRU, but it’s less expensive than TR’s Zenith.)

    More data, more data and ideas please.

  8. Susan on 31 Jan 2009 at 6:10 pm #

    Clearly some of it is time period — the early periods are less popular — and some is the role of word of mouth. Many years ago at the SLAC where I was denied tenure, one of my colleagues advised me to ask questions that students did not have to have done the reading to answer. HIS evaluations were always stratospheric.

  9. Janice on 31 Jan 2009 at 7:30 pm #

    My senior seminar’s still ridiculously over-enrolled and my second-year course for majors, despite trying to scare them off with a series of five projects, has many more than I’d like. It’s not that I’m such an amazing teacher, it’s that their choices are limited and likely to be moreso with the financial crunch limiting any hiring for the foreseeable future. *sigh*

  10. Dr. Crazy on 31 Jan 2009 at 8:51 pm #

    My courses are typically within a few students of the enrollment cap or at the cap, whatever I teach. I think that the bigger issue here is enrollment management and class scheduling stuff than it is time period or content area for the course (for that assumes that students take courses based on interest, which at my uni just isn’t typically the case, and I suspect, if that 20% of Ds and Fs in your surveys is any indication, Ann, isn’t the case at BRU either). In other words, our caps combined with the number of courses offered make it so that pretty much all courses go when they’re offered and most go either full or close to full. Now, I never teach a class with more than 25 students in it, and with my 4/4 load I typically have no more than 80 students in a semester. Will caps go up with the tanking economy? Ideally, no. And I don’t think that the admin will ask us to do so as long as students can get the classes that they need – which, on the whole, depends on scheduling courses across the blocks of time available and making sure that if classes aren’t filling at a certain time that we don’t schedule as many then, regardless of faculty preference.

  11. Industry Boy on 02 Feb 2009 at 10:10 am #

    I’m new here to the board and just getting ready to start graduate school. Everyone I know is going to back school in this economy; however, we are all taking on debt too. When my father went to grad school in the 70′s he didn’t pay for anything: On top of that he was a graduate assistant, so he came out ahead monetarily. We had a good laugh about that, cuse those times are longggg gone.

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