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Enrollment dip means fewer classes offered

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Over the summer preceding the 2017-2018 academic year at Sierra Nevada College, drastic budget cuts were made to compensate for a consistent and sharp decline in enrollment numbers. Those changes included the layoffs of six members of the faculty and staff, as well as the reconsideration of what courses can and cannot be offered.

In the last four years, SNC’s undergraduate enrollment has declined by about 100 students. Because the college relies heavily on enrollment revenue, students will still feel the repercussions for years to come with fewer courses being offered.

“There are less courses. Definitely less courses,” Humanities Chair and Associate Provost Dan O’Bryan said. “ at unfortunate restructuring [over the summer] did result in a more careful focus on the number of classes we can o er as a college and remain competitive.”

The long-term effects have been felt across all departments of the college, but more substantially in already under-enrolled majors in the fine arts and humanities. Students within popular majors such as business have a wider range of options when it comes to choosing classes.

“There are dramatically fewer classes [in the English department] because we lost three positions,” English Department Chair June Saraceno said. “We lost our visiting writer position as well as two three-quarter time faculty. Out of necessity, we had to cut back on our offerings. We’re trying to still offer very high- quality classes, there’s just fewer of them. There are only two full-time English faculty: Chris Anderson and myself.”

According to Provost Shannon Beets, the perception that the lack of course offerings can be directly attributed to the controversial summer budget cuts is not entirely accurate. She says lower enrollments translate to fewer registration in individual classes. If classes don’t meet enrollment minimums they can be canceled.

“It’s not so much the budget dictating, it really is about enrollment,” Beets said. “Certainly, enrollment is related to budget, because we’re a tuition-driven institution and enrollment drives the revenue we have available for that year. But the course offering decisions are not directly budget- related.”

As a solution to the issue created by the lack of students enrolling in any one particular course, the administration has developed a schedule of class rotations. “Some classes are only offered in fall. Some courses are only offered in spring. Some courses are offered every other fall. That really has to do with how much demand there is for the courses,” Beets said. In some cases, however, when a class cannot be offered due to under-enrollment, in order to fulfill graduation requirements students must substitute that class with independent study.

Required courses with high demand are given first priority when the course schedule is created. “English, which everyone in the college needs, is offered every fall and at least one section in spring for any incoming students that need it,” Beets said. “But a course, that say, is only required for 30 upper-division environmental science majors, is probably offered every other year.”

For this reason, electives are prioritized less than the required classes.
“When SNC runs a class with 10 or fewer people they just aren’t making any money,” Saraceno said. “As much as I would like things to not be about money, the reality is you have to pay people, you have to pay the light bill. So, if we can’t fill those classes with a good number, 15 to 17, then we’re not operating in a way that’s very sustain- able to the school.”

But students shouldn’t worry too much about a class getting canceled.

“We’re cutting classes that we’re really uncertain that will fill. We have to offer the upper-level classes that people need to graduate,” Saraceno said. “They have to be offered, worst case scenario, as an independent study with four people. We’re not going to impede anyone’s graduation plans.”

Having fewer course options is not all negative.

“I think long term it’s probably for the better,” O’Bryan said. “We have faced changes that have led to fewer classes in certain areas, but we try to compensate for that by improving other programs and areas. It is possible that we were a little too broad in our coverage of certain areas before, and that this almost invited a certain refocusing toward those dimensions of our programs that we do really well. And rather than trying to be everything to all people, we will now attempt to more effectively use the resources we have to attain the goals we hope to in terms of what a BA from Sierra Nevada College actually means and how far it can actually take you in the real world.”

As for the future of SNC, hopes are still high.

“I see growth in the incoming class which means that [enrollment] will start growing eventually,” Beets said. “I think next year we will be really close to where we are now, maybe 10 students fewer. Then the year after that we’ll be about even. Then the year after that I think we’ll see growth.

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Enrollment dip means fewer classes offered