Class-size policy blindsides students

By Editorial Board

The first of many changes likely to occur this academic year was an announcement by Stan Wearden, senior vice president and provost, that classes with less than 60 percent enrollment would be closed seven weeks prior to the beginning of the Fall semester. The 60 percent policy is not new. What was new was mandatory enforcement so early in the year.

Responding to budget concerns, Wearden outlined the change July 16 in a faculty-wide email. At the time, 80 percent of students had registered for the fall semester. Wearden said the administration made every effort not to close all sections of a single class and advised graduating seniors to consult with their department chairs for course substitutions if classes necessary to graduate were removed. Although the decision to close courses was financially responsible, the administration did not effectively communicate changes to students.

Department faculty advisors informed affected students via email and telephone calls. The administration did not release a statement to students, and the lack of communication reflects negatively on the administration’s goal of more transparency.

Columbia’s decision to cut classes with less than 60 percent enrollment is not surprising to those aware of the college’s financial issues. Kim outlined a five-year plan to increase the college’s average class size to 19 in light of declining enrollment in Fall 2013.

In Fall 2008, the average class size was 17.3 students and it fell to 15.8 by Fall 2012. The administration should have warned advisors of the possible policy changes in Spring 2014 when students were signing up for Fall 2014 classes. Advisors could have guided students to backup courses when clearing them for registration, assuring students were prepared if their classes were canceled. This is particularly important for graduating seniors. Most have an outline of the courses they must take in order to graduate on time. The poor communication from the administration’s end could possibly prevent some seniors from meeting that goal.

Enrollment is also an important factor. When students can no longer take the courses they have registered for, that can negatively impact the college’s image. Students are paying thousands of dollars for a Columbia education and it is aggravating for students who are prevented from taking courses that interest or benefit them. The college relies on tuition dollars to survive, and placing administrative barriers to academic progress can be detrimental to the institution’s future. This makes effectively communicating the reason for new policies and budget concerns to students even more essential. If the administrators communicated that the new policy was enforced because of financial pressure, students would likely be more understanding.

Above all else, Columbia should be loyal to students first. In order to maintain stable tuition, the administration must regulate class sizes. A professor teaching a section with just seven students is not an effective use of tuition dollars if it can be combined with another section. Fewer classes mean less expenses and, as a result, fewer tuition hikes. The college made the right choice, but the execution was flawed.

In a time of great changes at Columbia, an open line of communication between administration and students is essential. Administrators must remember that without students, Columbia cannot exist. Students have the right to know of changes that put their futures at stake.