This spring semester art major Hannah Paulston’s typography class was cancelled. When she received an email about her class cancellation, Paulston’s first thought was “crap.”
“It was shorter notice than I’m comfortable with,” Paulston said. “I usually like to get my classes set up right then, immediately, like right when it opens and I get it set up…. That gives me time to figure out other things in between the semesters, so when it came late it was really frustrating. What do I do now… this is in my plan? It was just like, well I’ve got to figure out what classes I can supplement this with because as a graphic design major classes are only given on certain semesters. It’s not like you can take them every semester.”
Paulston is not the only UAA student to receive a notification about a class cancellation, but each college has certain procedures in place for when to cancel a class.
The Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, John Stalvey, said that before cancelling classes, the college calculates how many classes, sections and seats to offer based on historic demand, estimates of how many students have the prerequisites to take a course and the availability of similar elective or required courses.
“Despite our best efforts to predict accurately the demand for a course, sometimes we overestimate the need for seats or sections for a given course and need to cancel a course or section,” Stalvey wrote in an email. “Generally this is about one percent of all the sections and courses offered in a semester.”
As soon as registration opens, the individual colleges begin to monitor the rates at which courses fill. The biggest disparity between the colleges, when it comes to class cancellation, is how high the enrollment needs to be for the class to be economical and fit scheduling concerns.
The College of Business and Public Policy closely monitors courses where the number of students enrolled is lower than 15 in undergraduate courses and less than 8-10 in graduate courses. The Community and Technical College would like an enrollment no less than 12. The College of Education’s 100-200 level course should have no fewer than 12 students, 300-400 level should have no less than 10 and 600 level course should have no less than six.
“We start looking at a graduate level 600 courses for possible cancellation if it appears the enrollment won’t reach five, an upper division course 300 and 400 level class if it won’t reach 10, and a lower division course 100 and 200 level if it won’t reach 20,” Stalvey said. “We try to make the decision to cancel a class soon enough so students have a chance to find a suitable alternative–often it is another section of the same course that has seats open–without cancelling too early and causing students to have to look for an alternative.”
The College of Business and Public Policy will notify students of a cancellation a minimum of two weeks to a month before the start of classes. The Community and Technical College has a policy of cancelling at least one week before class begins. The College of Education will cancel up to two weeks before classes start, but according to Dean Paul Deputy, cancellation for the College of Education is a rare practice.
“We did not have to cancel classes during the fall 2016, spring 2017 semesters,” Deputy wrote in an email. “We did cancel two summer courses this summer due to low enrollment. The students registered for these courses were contacted and we helped them find another course to register for.”
Dean of the University Honors College, John Mouracade, said there are three factors that he considers when cancelling a class.
“The first is whether or not students need this particular section to be offered in order to make progress in the curriculum,” Mouracade wrote in an email. “Second is the need for a critical number of students in order to generate a meaningful learning experience. Some classes just can’t be successful with three to four people, regardless of other factors. Finally, there are budget issues. Classes cost different amounts based on who is teaching them: adjunct, assistant professor or full professor, and so they require a different number of students before they can be self supporting.”
Another factor that contributes to class availability is room assignments, according to Interim Associate Dean of Business and Public Policy, Lynn Koshiyama.
“It is easier in our opinion to cancel a course then try to add it, mainly because once you’ve put in the courses, you’ve locked in pretty much your faculty workload, what they’re teaching, the room assignments, [it] makes it a little more difficult to rearrange that,” Koshiyama said.
If a required course for graduation does get cancelled, Koshiyama said the College of Business and Public Policy can still offer students some alternatives.
“We can’t run a class with one or two students. Therefore the other option would be to cancel the class and request that the faculty member do a directed study with the students,” Koshiyama said. “Or are there other classes that we can allow the student to replace in their degree program?”
Koshiyama estimates that no more than a dozen classes are cancelled in a semester.
Denise Runge, dean of the Community and Technical College, said only a small number of classes are cancelled each semester but that enrolled students are offered assistances in those circumstances.
“To be honest, we only have to cancel a small handful of classes each semester,” Runge wrote in an email. “Also, we practice strategic enrollment management–one of the tenets of this approach is to watch enrollment continuously and make adjustments as we go. So we fairly regularly will have a class fill up early–which then signals us to open a new section of that course to allow more students the chance to take it.”
In a circumstance where a student close to graduating has a required course cancelled, depending on the college there may be alternative courses offered like directed study or substitute courses.