Last Wednesday, I sat down in a classroom filled with 140 people for the first lecture of my ISYE 3039 class. Compared to first days of past semesters, the class seemed more crowded. While I thought to myself that it could have been because of the blizzard the preceding week or the fact that 10 students were sitting on the ground, something still didn’t feel right. Then finally, the reason for the almost claustrophobic sense of questioning hit me: the classroom only had a capacity of 106 people.
Most Tech students have experienced the 200-person lectures in Howey Physics for calculus, physics or other traditionally freshmen-oriented classes. Moreover, we are told that, by senior year, class sizes will be considerably smaller as they will be geared towards our majors instead of overall prerequisites. Yet this semester alone, there are 3000 and 4000 level classes, which have been capped at 60-70 students in the past, overflowing with more than 100 students. The ISYE 3039 class I mentioned above is a shining example of that trend; the class had an original cap at 60, which was then increased to 90 and finally upped to 140 after the approval of override students.
The response from the administration and school departments has been less than helpful. With in one of the most extreme circumstances of administrative response, one department offered to give the first five students to switch sections of a class a “small GT gift of [the student’s] choice valued at $20 or less” as a “tiny token of appreciation.” In some cases, the most explanation or advice that was offered to students was the chance to present a “compelling case” in order to get into a class. This begs the question: why should there be anything even close to an audition process to get into major-required classes for an education that we pay tuition for?
Class sizes do affect student performance. Overcrowded classes may impact one’s ability to hear, interact and even properly take notes. There also lies a danger of decreasing the accessibility of professors, with growing numbers of students in each professor’s class. After all, it was Tech that was named in the top 10 in “least happy students” by the Princeton Review in the early 2000s, in part for its “scarce professors.” Then again in 2005, the student faculty ratio was listed as 14:1. This ratio has since increased to 20:1 in 2009.
Indeed, the administration, faculty and the registrar’s office do make an active effort to enhance student registration experience through task forces and a number of projects. However, these groups need to overlook complicated improvements in favor of fixing simple problems. Simple resources such as classroom space and professors need to be allocated in a better way in order to accommodate student demand in an effective and efficient way. After all, who ever heard of building a skyscraper without a proper base?
Each academic school as well as the Registrar’s Office should actively monitor and cap registration for certain classes and circumstances. If a student is graduating within the next semester or two, then that student should not have to struggle to get an override into a class. In some upper level engineering electives this semester, graduating seniors have had to request an overload into classes that may have been made up by juniors with more hours or those who had their spots reserved by someone else. Those seniors should have priority in selecting the classes in the courses they need to take instead of giving spaces to lower classmen who still have time to take the class in future semesters.
Furthermore, if there are too many students in a class or who want to take a class, the solution is not to simply up the cap in student enrollment. The too obvious solution would be to create an entirely new section all together, especially if there are even more students trying to override in. Yet while this idea comes with its own set of issues such as not enough professors/TAs to teach or enough capital (both monetary and space-related) to support a new section, it is a necessary evil to ensure Tech’s future as a top academic institution. While budget cuts may hinder the ability to hire more faculty and TAs right now, the administration should offer more innovative solutions to temporarily alleviate the problem of classroom overcrowding.
Until changes are instituted, one can only discreetly hope that come drop day on March 4, the issue of classroom overcrowding will naturally resolve itself through one means or another. Then again, maybe people will just stop showing up all together.