Wednesday, August 06, 2014
The good news, having been through this at three different colleges now, is that I’ve honestly never seen this process used to “get” anybody. That may be small solace when it’s your class that’s on the chopping block, but it’s true. Battlefield decisions aren’t perfect, but we know which side we’re on.
The section-level data for those classes are amazingly stable, right down to fall/spring differences.
But I understand your problem, mainly because my dean is pretty open about the decision-making process when a class is borderline or next year's projections change. That helps a lot.
The department head enters a secret room (reminiscent of the one supposedly present at the Skull and Bones secret society) and he suddenly morphs into a Satanic figure, replete with horns and a forked tail. The tenured faculty members then file in, all of them wearing black hoods. At the table, each seat has a black ball and a white ball in front of it. At the center of the table, there is a vessel in the shape of a human skull. “We are here to consider the tenure candidacy of Dr Doe”, says the department head. “Time to vote”, says the satanic chairman. Each tenured faculty member then drops a black ball into the skull-shaped vessel. “Justice has been done!”, cackles the department head. The entire room then explodes with maniacal laughter, fires break out, and the smell of brimstone whiffs out of the room.
At UCSC, course decisions have to be made about a year ahead of time, long before enrollments are known—large classrooms are scheduled about 18 months ahead of time.
In rare instances we can add another section to a course (generally only at 8 a.m. or 7 p.m., since all our classrooms are in use in prime time), but we don't generally cancel classes even if enrollment is smaller than expected.
It can be very difficult to predict enrollment—I had one class last year that was being offered for the second time, and I expected 30±10 students, but got only 14. We taught it anyway, since it was becoming a required class in the curriculum revision. I have no idea whether to expect 15 or 40 when it is taught next Spring, but parts and tools for the lab have to be ordered about a month before class starts, when enrollment has just opened.
As noted, there are SO many variables to consider. For example, our Math Department always takes at least 5 students over the enrollment cap in every single wait-listed course. They rightfully then have the expectation that the occasionally under-enrolled class will still run.
The answer is to develop clairvoyance sufficient to project enrollments for the upcoming year. So far, that has not worked for me.
I don't understand how a capstone course would be open to cancellation, or what advising scheme would leave you unaware of how many students are supposed to be taking it in a given semester.
CCs in California are a special case because, as I understand it based on things I learned viat this blog and my own, their budget is set externally. They can't add a class based on tuition alone like my college does. FYI, Dean Reed is at Holyoke CC in Mass, whereas I am in a totally different (but not CA) region of the country. We both plan class sections based on past performance scaled to current enrollment, and many sections are tuition dependent in that the instructor is not paid from state funds in any way.
I've linked to an old blog article that is relevant to enrollment at CA CCs.
I could see a larger school having an off-cycle Capstone for students like her if they usually had enough to make it work and not always knowing who was going to graduate early (or show up for one more term if they didn't make it last Spring rather than dropping out), but it would seem like something you'd have to have a plan B around if it didn't run, since you shouldn't jerk students around about whether or not they can graduate at the end of a given term. If that plan B is one on one advising them through a Capstone project instead of a class, I could see a good argument for running the Capstone class with really small numbers since that would still be less work for the professor in question than meeting with, say, 10 students one on one to cover the same things.
Or some schools have multiple interdisciplinary Capstone options rather than one per major, and so maybe canceling one of them just means students don't get the one they were interested in but can still graduate on time. I think the state school in my city does it that way.