Andrew Renneisen | Photo EditorOn the Hill
At the limit: Enrollment increases produce uneven effects
If it seems like there are more freshmen on Syracuse University’s campus each year, it’s because there are.
From 2006 to 2010, full-time undergraduate enrollment increased by 11.8 percent and total enrollment increased by 10 percent, according to a report by the University Senate’s Ad Hoc Committee on Enrollment.
The additional revenue from tuition has primarily been used for two purposes: the increase of financial aid and the hiring of additional faculty, both to replace retired faculty and to fill new positions, said Eric Spina, vice chancellor and provost.
Additional money also paid for facilities such as Newhouse III, Ernie Davis Hall, Dineen Hall and the Life Sciences Building, as well as maintenance and improvements to existing facilities, said Kevin Quinn, senior vice president for public affairs.
The university has hired more faculty members at a time when many institutions have either frozen hiring or laid off, Quinn said.
A look into the effects
Increased enrollment has had an uneven effect across campus, with some areas feeling the crunch and others left unaffected.
A lack of clear communication between administration and some university faculty, as well as difficulty in compiling and analyzing pertinent data, has further hampered SU’s efforts to understand the effects of increasing enrollment.
The first increases in enrollment can be traced back to 2005, when both planned increases and higher demand resulted in more students on campus. At the time, SU typically had an incoming class of about 2,600 students, but the university was able to handle more, said Don Saleh, vice president for enrollment management.
Around the same time, SU also experienced an increase in demand in the form of a “bump in yield,” which means more admitted students decided to enroll than the university anticipated. This unexpected boost increased enrollment by at least “a couple hundred” students, Saleh said.
Even when enrollment increases are intentional, hitting targets is difficult because of the number of factors involved. The administration must make the numbers for both the individual colleges and the university as a whole, Spina said. This year, the university hit its target enrollment number almost exactly, he said.
But these unplanned increases haven’t had a huge effect on the university, Spina said. When enrollment was a little high, the university had to provide additional support to some schools and colleges, but the issues were resolved in a way that didn’t decrease quality, he said.
Nonetheless, whether the growing number of students on campus has affected class sizes and strained faculty resources remains a hotly debated topic lacking a clear answer.
Mary Lovely, an economics professor and chair of the USen’s Ad Hoc Committee on Enrollment, said the committee spent almost a year studying the impact of increased enrollment on class sizes. Throughout the process, the committee was hampered by an inability to find the data needed.
SU does not keep track of how many classes faculty teach, making it hard to tell whether more students put a strain on faculty. Difficulty in measuring cross-listed classes and scheduling idiosyncrasies makes it hard to determine the effect that increased enrollment has had on class sizes, Lovely said.
“Last fall, we spent most of the semester working with the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, the Office of Management and Budget, some very smart people who sincerely tried,” she said. “It can’t be done.”
Lovely and the rest of the committee concluded in the report that during the 2006 to 2010 enrollment increase, “academic leadership could not monitor changes in class size because of an inability to confidently count the number of students in classes with existing data resources.”
Lovely said some tension between faculty members and the chancellor in recent years has occurred, but that a collective approach to enrollment is needed to move forward.
“The chancellor has really pushed Scholarship in Action, but as a result, some of us feel we’ve lost sight of what’s happening in the classroom,” she said. “In some ways, this (report) was a much needed reminder of how the classroom is central to what we do.”
We have as many students in classrooms as fire marshals will allow. If enrollment continues to grow at the same pace, it will be horrifying.
Eugene Poletsky, Chair of the Mathematics Department
A look into the classroom
Despite the lack of data available for the university as a whole, anecdotal evidence and individual department data point to increased class sizes in some areas.
The size of the university’s First Year Forum classes increased from 15 to 16 students in the last few years, and non faculty members started teaching these sections, said Kandice Salomone, an associate dean at the College of Arts and Sciences.
Arts and Sciences also increased the number of academic counselors, adding four full-time and one part-time counselor in the past two and a half years, Salomone said.
Specific departments in Arts and Sciences have also experienced the effects. The number of students taking classes in the math department has increased by 17.43 percent since 2006 and 40.27 percent since 2003, said Eugene Poletsky, chair of the mathematics department.
“We have as many students in classrooms as fire marshals will allow,” Poletsky said. “If enrollment continues to grow at the same pace, it will be horrifying.”
Enrollment in large and small lower-level class sections has increased by 27.26 percent and 56.85 percent, respectively, since 2003. The problem will be helped a little bit this year, as the department is in the process of hiring two new faculty members, Poletsky said.
The department is also running out of both classroom and office space, Poletsky said, and has lost many of its priority classrooms in the last few years. Poletsky said he has spoken to the administration about adding another math building and was told it was a possibility, but won’t happen in the next five or 10 years.
Poletsky maintains the mathematics department can’t wait that long for additional space or resources. Increased enrollment should mean more tuition coming into SU, but Poletsky said he doesn’t understand how the additional funds are spent.
“I don’t know where the money goes,” he said. “But it’s certainly not being used to alleviate our problems.”
A look into the future
Regardless of the rationale behind enrollment increases, many faculty members simply want to be informed and included in discussions about enrollment plans.
More than two-thirds of faculty surveyed by the USen committee agreed that the SU administration only marginally included or did not include campus members in discussions about enrollment planning. While decision-making is handled differently in each department, 42.4 percent of department chairs and program directors surveyed said they had not been consulted on enrollment changes.
The committee also noted the lack of enrollment data available to the campus community and said the administration could do a better job of providing information.
Enrollment numbers are primarily discussed in one-on-one meetings with deans and associate deans, and with the senate budget committee, Spina said. But the administration has begun working on establishing strategies to make sure deans communicate these conversations to faculty, he said.
“We felt that we were interacting with individuals who were representing the colleges in broad ways, but it’s also incumbent on us to make sure we are ensuring those conversations are happening,” he said. “This (report) was a useful thing for us to see that not as many faculty as we would like felt that they were aware of these conversations.”
Spina said he doesn’t expect enrollment to continue to increase. SU has figured out how to handle a 3,400-student freshman class, and all the resources are in place to support them in terms of housing, financial aid and classes, he said.
“At this point we’re not looking to get substantially larger,” Spina said. “The number we have is the number we’re going to stay with.”
Instead, SU is looking to increase enrollment among specific groups of students. As enrollment at community college grows, Saleh said he hopes to add a total of 100 transfer students in the next four or five years. The university is also focused on its retention and graduation rates, he said.
Going forward, it’s important that central administration and university staff continue to talk about enrollment numbers, Spina said.
“We need to work together,” he said. “We need to work with the deans and the department chairs to make certain that whoever wants to be part of this conversation or have input into it does.”
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