Golden Rams coming back to campus last week may have been taken aback by the number of students populating their spring semester classrooms. Only a few weeks before the return from winter break, several general education course sections were canceled suddenly and students were placed into already-filled time slots.
In 2014, the serving Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs signed off on an Implementation Agreement regarding class-size policies as recommended by the Curriculum and Academic Policies Council (CAPC). The recommendation — available for viewing on WCU’s CAPC webpage, states that, in their professional opinion, most class sizes at the university should be kept well below 40.
In the Implementation Agreement, CAPC acknowledges that while some departments, such as those under the lower-level STEM umbrella, must serve the graduation requirements of hundreds of students across multiple majors, they also state there are other courses that are more feedback and/or interaction-intensive for which class caps should be logically limited below 30. It also states that for courses labeled Writing Intensive, the agreed-upon cap recommendation is 25 — yet many of the overflowing sections students have found themselves lumped into include these Gen-Eds such as Writing 120 and 200.
The agreement considers twenty five the maximum size for a course where students are expected to utilize office hours, conduct in-depth peer reviews, and participate in class discussions — these recommendations are intended to benefit not only the teachers, but learning outcomes for students as well.
According to a 2007 study by Joe Cuseo, PhD of Educational Psychology, “as class size increases, instructors tend to modify the breadth and depth of course objectives, course assignments, and course-related learning outside the classroom… to the detriment of student learning and, ultimately, student achievement.” CAPC recommends that these General Education sections, many of them populated by freshmen, should be kept as small as possible in order for learning to occur to its fullest extent.
WCU did not adhere to these cap recommendations when organizing course selections, however, and also did not consult the faculty who would (or were supposed to) be teaching them.
Ervin suggested that while some professors were given a larger course load, however, others have found themselves teaching fewer or no classes at all this semester. Adjunct, or part-time, instructors were particularly affected, many for whom teaching was a primary source of income.
“Caps are set in collaboration with faculty experts with an eye to what is in the best interests of the students. It’s important that course caps be honored,” says Margaret Ervin, President of the Association of State Colleges and University Faculties (APSCUF). WCU professors were given as much notice of the changes as their students were. Now scrambling to accommodate their increase of responsibilities (at no extra compensation), there is a concern both about faculty well-being as well as course quality.
Ervin adds, “an average professor works all weekend grading, and I expect this is going to cut into time that would have been spent on much needed self-care.”
Hannah Linkowsky is a second-year Early Grades Prep major in the Honors College with minors in Spanish, Dance Performance and Civic & Professional Leadership. HL977843@wcupa.edu.