Professors adapt to increasing enrollment

Ethan Summers

With enrollment topping 30,000, some students have begun to question if the University’s growth is helping or hurting their educations.

             However, many professors expressed mostly positive views of campus growth.

             Jennifer Greer Chairwoman of the department of journalism, said the growth isn’t hurting her program because of limits on class sizes.

             “One thing that I would point out is that a lot of the programs like ours, professional programs, tend to have limits on our class sizes,” Greer said. “So even though we have more students, our class sizes can’t change.”

             Greer said “skills classes” where more teacher-student interaction is needed for a student’s success have not suffered at all. The growth has only motivated faculty to become more imaginative.

             “We will still keep those class sizes small because we have to keep our accreditation in place,” Greer said. “We have to come up with creative ways of doing that.”

             Greer gave JN 311, reporting, as an example. More students need the class, but the college doesn’t have the resources to offer more sections, so Greer and the program restructured the class to a lecture and multiple labs.  

In those labs, students can receive the one-on-one interaction they need to develop their writing skills, while still learning the lecture material in the larger class section.

             Greer said graduate assistants play a large part in the department’s handling of the growing student body.

Graduate assistants often come with real world media experience, Greer said. They bring new life and updated information to a department where some professors have been out of the media workforce, at least full time, for many years.

             The struggling economy is another reason Greer said the growth has been good for the University. With more students, the department has to meet a growing demand. That demand keeps faculty employed full time.

             “I see it as a real positive in this economy,” Greer said. “I have friends at other universities… that are on furloughs. I talk to colleagues; people are just amazed at how lucky we are. I don’t think it’s luck. I think it’s some really smart planning on the part of our president and our Provost.”

             The growth and its challenges haven’t been limited to one side of campus or one college.

David Nikles, a professor of chemistry at the University since 1990, said while enrollment has increased, the chemistry department responded by offering more sections and scaling back class sizes.

             “At that time I had 250 to 300 students in my general chemistry classes,” Nikles said. “Now, the size of the lecture hall limits the class size to less than 200. This was done on purpose to limit the class size.

             “When classes meet their limits, the chemistry department generally offers more sections.”

             Nikles said increasing faculty to keep pace with the student body is an unrealistic expectation.

             “We have hired faculty at a lower rate than the rate of increase in the number of students,” Nikles said. “This is prudent, since it is important that we are careful about hiring high quality faculty. This is a slow task that we take very seriously.”

             Nikles also said the growth has brought higher quality students and needed funding to the University, allowing for a better education.

             “The Provost and my dean are working with the faculty to find substantive ways to improve instruction,” Nikles said. “They have invested heavily into technology, including eLearning, online access to library resources and putting technology into the classroom. With increased enrollment comes increased financial resources to pay for these investments.”

             Both Greer and Nikles said they consider the growth, overall, to be very positive and manageable.

             “Despite the tremendous growth in enrollment, I find I have as much time as ever to spend with my students,” Nikles said. “I have never turned away a student who has come to my office seeking help.”

             Greer said, “The bottom line is, I’m not going say it hasn’t presented challenges, but overall it has been a really good thing for the University and most faculty realize that. So we just work to do whatever we can to make sure we don’t sacrifice quality.”