While 2,006 CSUN students have decided on psychology as a major, the “undecided” holds a strong second place with 1,829 indecisive but promising learners. According to enrollment data released by Institutional Research, the most popular majors at CSUN, as of Sept. 11, are psychology, accounting and information systems, and business administration.
“We can never keep up with enrollment in these big majors,” said Cynthia Rawitch, associate vice president of undergraduate studies. “It’s really simple. Not enough seats, not enough classes.”
Enrollment numbers are taken into account in the university’s annual budget planning, when money is shifted between the colleges on campus to distribute more funding to majors that are in high demand. This sensitive balancing act can be described as a “zero sum game,” Rawitch said.
Another way for the colleges to manage problematic high enrollment is to declare a major “impacted.” An impaction cuts the flow of applicants to a major by raising entry-level standards such as G.P.A. or S.A.T. scores. Only two majors are currently impacted at CSUN – accounting and finance.
The risk of impaction is that it may prove too effective and thereby drop the numbers of students below the desired levels if potential applicants perceive a major as too difficult to get into.
“We can be more selective with the quality of our students,” said Professor Donald Bleich, chair of the department of finance, real estate and insurance. “I don’t like turning students away, but I have to.”
Being enrolled in a popular major (one with 500 students or more) presents challenges for both students and faculty. High enrollment is a “burden on a department in terms of student services, student advisers and office staff,” said Rawitch. “It becomes more difficult to come out in five or six years.”
Perhaps the biggest challenges to administrators are the so-called “bottleneck-classes.” These are classes that many majors are required to take which become problematic when the numbers of sections offered fail to meet students’ demands and crowding leads to delayed graduations. But according to administrators, the biggest reason students are not graduating on time is that many are concurrently holding jobs, which keeps them from taking on full course loads.
This fall marks the implementation of the new General Education Reform Plan for all new freshmen and transfer students. The new plan significantly reduces the number of required G.E. classes and is designed to offer students the option to take more free electives, experiment with different kinds of classes and to take on a minor field of study.
“It makes selecting courses less confusing,” said Rawitch.
What effects the new G.E. plan will have on smaller departments like the religious studies department remains to be seen, but it is likely that less demand for G.E. classes will result in decreased enrollment.
In the case of the religious studies department, a large number of students are simply passing through, taking classes to meet G.E. requirements. The new plan will most likely decrease enrollment in RS 160, which fulfills the Comparative Cultural Studies requirement in the old G.E. plan. An ongoing Resource Impact study will watch the effects of the new Plan R closely and a report will be produced 18 months from now.
“It’s too early to say how all of this will impact us,” said Phyllis Herman, chair of the religious studies department. Except for a couple of low-enrollment classes this semester, the department has had no real enrollment problems. “We’ve had no classes cancelled because of low enrollment.”
One advantage of a smaller department is that student advisement is easier to handle, according to Patrick Nichelson, associate chair and former chair of the religious studies department, which has 60 declared majors and 21 minors.
Apart from adding sections and increasing class sizes, the university offers online classes, which can be significantly larger, theoretically holding as many as 800 students, according to Rawitch.
This semester, the department of finance, real estate and insurance offers an online section of Business 303 for more than 200 students. Large online classes are more challenging to teach and are not suitable for all students. “Some students insist on traditional lecture classes,” said Bleich.
College administrators are also discussing the possibility of offering classes taught half online and half in traditional lecture form as another measure to solve the university’s physical space problem.
Although the effects of Plan R are likely to be more visible with the smaller departments, the situation offers little reason for worrying within the religious studies department. “The dean is incredibly supportive of our department,” Herman said.
Rawitch said she agrees that small departments “tend to maintain themselves.”