Registrar Says Controlling Class Sizes Requires “Vigilance”

By Courtney Such, News Editor

Earlier this semester, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty John Beckford announced that Academic Affairs would seek to reduce its share of the university’s budget deficit through a net reduction in the size of the faculty, a move that some at Furman have feared will lead to larger class sizes.

Associate Dean and University Registrar Brad Barron argued, however, that he does not believe that there will be an increase in average class size but that Furman will need to be stricter in enforcing minimum class enrollment restrictions.

“We are not going to run courses where they aren’t absolutely required of a student’s program this semester,” Barron said, noting cases where the university had run courses with three or four students.

Barron added that historically Furman has always had minimum class enrollment restrictions but said that the university “will be more vigilant than we were in the past.”

Student enrollment at Furman has fluctuated somewhat in recent years, Barron noted, but has nonetheless remained relatively steady even as the university has hired more faculty.

“The full-time faculty has increased steadily as everyone is aware, and the ability or desire to pay for a Furman education changed significantly since 2008 when the economy went [down],” he said.

Furman’s average class size is currently at a little more than 18 students. The average was higher before the university implemented the First Year Seminar Program in 2008 and hired more faculty to teach the new classes. The seminars, which capped enrollment at 15 students, dropped the average class size from 20 to about 18.

“[The average class size] will stay at 18 as long as we follow the pattern that we have [always] followed,” Barron said, though he said average class sizes could rise slightly if the university decides to increase the limits on FYS class sizes.

The original intent of the FYS program was not primarily to decrease class size but “to get students excited about the fact that they were at college and to get you prepared to be successful in all of your other courses at Furman — foundational and transitional,” Barron said.

Some individual departments, however, have enrollment limitations for certain classes, and Barron said this has led the Registrar’s Office to rework class sizes.

“Now there are two types of courses: regular (24-36 students) and seminar or small courses where 12-18 students are,” Barron said.

“There is not a class intentionally bigger than 36,” he said.

Smaller classes include those that involve labs, specific writing instruction, or otherwise require additional interaction between students and professors. For instance, Barron noted that Communications Studies limits the class size for its Public Speaking 100-level courses because of concerns about fitting speeches into one class period.

Barron stressed that a main goal is to provide “maximum opportunity with minimum spending,” and that means that course capacities are ideally at 90 percent.

There is an average of five to 10 insufficient enrollment course cancellations each academic year, despite the fact that Barron said his office “works very hard to avoid getting to that point.”

“We will become more disciplined about how big the courses are, but we do not expect the tenor of Furman [to change],” Barron said. “We do not create instructional experiences that don’t serve our students well. Some of our decisions are based on physical size or equipment, while other things are based on what kind of experience a student is going to get.”

Psychology Department Chair Dr. Beth Pontari said that she and her colleagues work to avoid such cancellations and that the department has not had to make many changes to the course offerings they’ve proposed to the Registrar’s Office.

“As a department, we try to come up with a schedule that provides a wide variety of course offerings — with not too many courses occurring at the same times,” Pontari said.

Pontari did note one occasion where the Registrar’s Office asked the department to change a freshman seminar to a regularly sized course but said the department usually ends up offering most of the courses it requests.

Barron suggested that course cancellation is a reality that professors are learning to handle, but the Registrar’s Office is not able to determine the status of courses until enrollment numbers for the fall semester are confirmed.

“No one wants to offer things that are cancelled, but these things are sometimes hard to predict,” Barron said.

“It is all a very delicate balance that we are trying to achieve. We are trying to maximize the student experience, not the faculty experience, though we know that positive faculty experiences will result in positive student experiences,” Barron added.

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