Officials taking steps to minimize average class sizes

Sitting at 7,160 undergraduates this year, the university was advised by the Board of Trustees to cap the total of undergraduates in an effort to protect the quality of education, said the vice chancellor for academic affairs.A plan to cap the undergraduate total at 7,200 for five years began last year and concerns the imbalance of too many students and not enough faculty across TCU’s schools and colleges, said Nowell Donovan, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.

Donovan said TCU is just under its limit after enrolling its largest freshmen class of 1,675 students this fall.

However, Donovan said, capping the amount of undergraduates will not solve the student-teacher ratio problem unless the university continues to hire faculty.

In the past three years, TCU has hired about 45 faculty members, Donovan said. These faculty members fill new positions and also replace former faculty.

Undergraduate enrollment went from 6,933 in 2003 to 7,171 students in 2005, according to the 2005 TCU Factbook.

In the past decade, undergraduate enrollment numbers went from 5,810 in 1996 to 6,885 in 2001, according to the TCU Factbook.

Donovan said he expects the university to maintain its numbers for the next four years, meaning next year’s freshman class should be the size of this year’s graduating class.

The filtering out of large undergraduate classes will be a long-term process, he said, but right now, schools and colleges are dealing with the situation separately.

Sam Dietz, dean of the School of Education, said TCU isn’t so behind that it can’t fix the situation of unbalanced student-teacher ratios.

“I think if we continue hiring faculty at this rate and go back to the 1,500 goal of admissions, then in four years we can do it,” Dietz said. “But if we keep admitting more students, we’re never going to catch up.”

Dietz said the School of Education usually keeps undergraduate classes at 20 to 25 students, but many of its classes are near 30 students, and the introductory education class is at 100.

“It’s too many for education; it’s too many for a lot of things,” Dietz said. “But in the last couple of years, we have hired new people, and we’re hoping for more, and we have a plan to systematically reduce our classes. As we get more faculty, we’re going to reduce the classes and try to get back to 25; that’s really the maximum.”

Core curriculum courses would also see a break in class sizes if enrollment stays low, said Mary Volcansek, dean of the AddRan College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Volcansek said the number of freshmen drives up the sizes of freshman- and sophomore-level classes more than anything. She said classrooms in Reed Hall have a maximum capacity of 42, but when freshmen enroll for fall classes during the summer, class numbers get bumped up to accommodate students.

“We end up having to juggle to get more seats, especially in the core classes,” Volcansek said.

Accommodating students has forced AddRan to hire more adjuncts, which Volcansek said isn’t bad but is usually a last-minute decision.

“I personally believe TCU should never offer freshmen classes larger than 50,” Volcansek said. “It’s so much better when you can keep classes around 25 to 30, 45 to 50 maximum.”

Class sizes of more than 25 students isn’t limited to lower-level courses; it also affects junior- and senior-level classes, said Claire Sanders, a professor in the department of history.

Sanders said there are history courses that have 30 students or more because they do not require prerequisites. With the exception of writing emphasis classes, courses are capped at 40.

Areas with high enrollment in need of faculty include the School of Business, the College of Communication and the Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences, the provost said.

“Unless your major is not one of the super-popular ones, then obviously your size goes up to what I consider is an unacceptable number,” Donovan said. “Unacceptable means the university will do something about reducing it.