Undergraduate class sizes increase due budget cuts


Courtesy photo: ISU News Service

Michael Crum, associate dean of graduate programs for the College of Business.

Ben Theobald

Enrollment has increased at Iowa State affecting the number of students in undergrad classes.

“Our average class sizes at the undergrad level are higher than anywhere else in the university,” said Danny Johnson, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs for College of Business. “They were at 69 students per class on average across all the undergraduate classes.”

“The biggest complaint we’ve had over the years is the size of those large class sizes, and part of that large class size was driven by the size of what we call our core business classes,” Johnson said.

Core classes are the courses every student in the College of Business must take in order to graduate such as marketing, accounting and finance.

“Those average class sizes until fall 2010 were running anywhere approximately from 210 to about 280 students per class,” Johnson said.

The cause for the increase in class size has been attributed to budget cuts.

“The budget reductions of the last several years have meant that people are looking at the education needs of students,” said Dave Holger, associate provost for academic programs and dean of the graduate college.

The budget is causing the administration to look at how to effectively provide the same quality of education with a higher number of students.

“One way we can do that is by increasing class size modestly where that is possible,” Holger said. “Another trend is we’re trying to teach those growing number of students with lecturers rather than permanent faculty.”

Lecturers are the first things cut when there are fairly major budget cuts.

“Faculty and staff salaries and benefits comprise well more than 80% of the direct operating budget for the College of Business,” said Michael Crum, associate dean of graduate programs for the College of Business. “Thus, in terms of where cuts have to come from when the budget is reduced substantially is in discretionary funds, the vast majority of which for us go to hiring part-time lecturers.  Of course, reductions here have a direct impact on the number of course sections we can offer.”

Limited number of sections results affect the size of the class.

“The net impact is larger class sizes,” Crum said.

The reason for the budget cuts is based upon the lack of financial support from the state.

“The long term trend is pretty clear, and that is the state government is telling the region schools that they are not going to get any substantial increases of support from the state, and that we have to find ways to do more on our known,” Crum said.

There was a differential tuition policy proposed to students from the faculty which would be earmarked for three things.

“First would be to hire additional faculty to reduce the size of those core business sizes down to somewhere in the 75 to 80 student range,” Johnson said. “The second is that a portion of the money would go to fund a permanent communication center in the college of business. Third is a portion of that by a policy of Iowa State would go to fund financial aid for students.”

The differential tuition was put into effect in the semesters of fall 2009 and spring 2010.

“It was a three-year phase in plan where the students would pay an additional $250 a semester,” Johnson said. “In fall 2010 and spring 2011, it would increase to $500 dollars a semester and next year it would be $750 extra a semester.”

Johnson said, “That differential tuition would increase at the same rate as the overall tuition increase.”

Students were very supportive of the differential tuition because it decreased the core class size, Crum said.

Differential tuition is applied only to business juniors and seniors who have been admitted to the professional program.

An increase in class size affects the learning environment for both faculty and students.

The size of those classes made it difficult to do writing assignments, give homework assignments and make grading overwhelming. Students feel like they’re just a number with those large class sizes, Johnson said.

“By dropping those class sizes down you can get better discussions and interactions with the students,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of things we can do if we can get those class sizes down. All of that was part of the goal of using that portion of differential tuition to hire faculty.”

Another reason for these large classes other than enrollment is that elective classes are diminishing.

Elective courses that are not required for graduation and have lower enrollment just go away. If you’re not teaching as many of those classes then that automatically raises the average, Holger said.

Many students in the College of Business are feeling the effect of the increase in class size.

“I had Economics 101 in Curtiss Hall last semester,” said Yuan Yuan Ying, freshman in pre-business. “It was really a huge classroom. I prefer small lectures because we are able to ask questions and the professor can be more specific.”

Wilson Ang, sophomore in supply chain management, is taking 200-level courses where there is a range of 30–40 students in a class.

“The higher up the level, the smaller the class,” Ang said. “I prefer small classes.”