The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Educated guesses help create schedule of classes

If picking the right classes can be tough, imagine how hard it is to make the schedule of classes.

Many students have already registered for their spring 2007 classes. While some may be frustrated because the classes of their choice are full or the sections are unavailable, others-especially working students-may become frustrated because there are not enough classes offered at night. Every year, the class schedule fails to accommodate the needs of some students. While department chairs across the university do their best to cater to students in their departments, several factors must be weighed when organizing a class schedule that will work for everyone.

Associate vice president of undergraduate studies Cynthia Z. Rawitch, said the CSU Chancellor gives CSUN a target number of FTES (or full-time equivalent students) it must meet each semester. The provost distributes those numbers to its eight colleges a year in advance. At least two department chairs interviewed said they are already working on the schedule for the fall 2007 semester.

Rawitch said in addition to target FTES, chairs consider a number of things when configuring class schedules. Past history of student attendance is a big indicator of what courses will be needed and at what times. The number of majors, the number of new students expected to attend the university and the number of students who will be graduating must also be taken into consideration.

Trends in department popularity are another factor. Certain majors have proven to be more popular than others. Rawitch noticed an increase in the number of journalism majors in the last three to five years. Business, CTVA and the nursing program are other majors that have always been popular, she said. Those departments may need more courses than others.

“It’s an estimate and a guessing game. But, it’s an educated guessing game,” Rawitch said.

She added more to the equation, stating that serving a major must be balanced with serving students who want to take a general education course in a certain department. She also said part of that balancing act is figuring out the number of upper-division courses versus lower-division courses. A simple formula for the latter is that the number of upper-division students thin out as they move up in class standing, find an emphasis within their major or leave school. Also, the lower-division classes often require large lecture halls, where more students can be served by a single faculty member, thus making lower-division classes less expensive to schedule. This is why there are fewer upper-division classes and more lower-division classes.

Rawitch said it takes a certain magic to create a class schedule that works. “How each department chair does the voodoo that they do, I don’t know exactly, but it’s not easy,” she said. Certainly, there are factors unique to each department based on area of study and the students’ lifestyles.

Peter Grego, chair of the theater department, takes into account the standard considerations when creating a schedule, such as hitting the projected enrollment while avoiding any bottleneck courses, or courses that spill over with students they cannot accommodate. However, he also lists specific factors he considers when creating a schedule of classes. For one, he thinks of the students. He is careful not to schedule freshman classes all at once, because freshmen need to meet certain requirements. They would not be able to meet such requirements with the conflict posed by a schedule of lower-level classes held at the same time. Second, he considers the production schedule.

“Integrated into the courses is a season of plays, and the experiences in the classes correlate with the productions,” Grego explained.

Since the majority of plays are held during the evening, Grego schedules more day classes. However, he does not totally exclude evening classes, as long as those classes do not conflict with the rehearsals for various productions.

“It’s a wild stew trying to juggle classes,” Grego said.

He also must consider the faculty and graduate students. He noted that the teachers’ assistants are graduate students, and they have priority over faculty in choosing classes each semester.

“We’re responsible for making sure the grad students go off to Ph.D. programs,” he said.

Grego said recently the department has done some repurposing by combining two sections of the introductory class required of freshman theater majors. Each section accommodates about 30 students.

“We found that putting 60 people in the same room, the students feel much more connected,” he said.

Since such a large class may be stressful on faculty, Grego makes sure he assigns a full-time professor and a graduate assistant to the class. Grego is also surprised at the popularity of online classes, such as theater 110OL and theater 310OL. He said theater is traditionally thought of as hands-on, but the online classes have become very successful. He said the department wanted to do a series of one-act productions created entirely by students, but they found that the students were already busy enough with the schedule offered by the department. He emphasized that, although the department creates the schedule, it is still based on the students’ wants and needs.

Dave Moon is the current dean of the college of arts, media and communication, but he was the chair of the art department for six years, and he agreed that students are a prime consideration when creating a class schedule.

Moon also listed the standard elements he took into consideration when organizing a class schedule, but emphasized that budget is key in formulating courses that best meet the students’ needs.

He said because our university is part of the CSU system, budget will always be an issue. However, he said he strongly believes the education students receive here is equal to or exceeds that of a private college, and that students receive this education at a price that is a steal.

“(With two semesters of $1,500 tuition plus fees) you’re looking at about $3,500 (in an academic year),” Moon said. “Compared to UC, that’s a bargain. We hope the students can earn that much and pay their loans off in a heartbeat . . . the point is support from the state has diminished. The chairs and deans are struggling with how to meet the students’ needs. We have a very strained budget, so we have to be very creative (with the schedules).”

As a dean, Moon said he gets reports from the different departments at the start of each semester. If there are bottleneck courses, they seek more money from the provost and use it to open more sections for students who need to graduate. According to Rawitch, there is an emergency fund held aside for bottleneck courses. In certain cases, when one department within a college is doing better than another in terms of accommodating students, the dean of that college may pull funds from one department and give it to another that is struggling to meet students’ needs.

Courses that do not fill up are cancelled. Shirley Svorny, chair of the economics department, said administration never like to see a class cancelled. She would rather see a class open up later due to high demand, than see a class cancelled due to low demand. She said that if a class gets cancelled, her department would notify each student enrolled in that class by telephone and e-mail. She urges students to check the online version of the schedule of classes rather than the printed version, because the online version is updated frequently, and students can get a more accurate picture of what classes are available and how they are faring in terms of enrollment.

According to Rawitch, another option soon to be offered online is the Degree Completion Plan. It will allow students to plan their schedules for the academic year. She said students do not have to commit to the agendas they plot online, but it will allow them to have a
n idea of what their schedules will look like in the long run. It is similar to the DARS in that it shows students what they need to complete, but it is simpler to understand, does not include requirements that have been met and is better at showing progress than the DARS. Rawitch said the format should help students to feel a sense of accomplishment. This program should go live in the spring 2007 semester. However, the portion of the program that will allow the departments to compile the data and use it for plotting class schedules each semester will not be up and running until a year from now.

Students, especially working students, may also benefit from more Friday or evening classes. Rawitch said the university does their best to cater to students who work full-time. However, she said statistics of students who take evening classes could never provide an accurate number, because students who attend day classes, but prefer evening classes, are not accounted for.

Bettina J. Huber, director of the office of institutional research, provided a table that listed the number of evening classes offered for the fall semester, from 2001 to 2005, and the number of students enrolled in those classes. Over the course of five years, the average of evening classes offered totaled 1,158 and the average number of students enrolled in those classes totaled 17,586. According to Huber, those numbers equate to about one-fifth of all classes, both day and evening. (Huber said it should be noted that evening classes are defined as courses beginning at 5 p.m. or later, and the number of students enrolled in evening classes included students who took more than one evening class and were counted more than once.)

“Clearly there are more day students. There is more ability to put classes during daylight hours,” Rawitch said.

John Sobhani, a senior sociology major, attended a physics lab scheduled on a Friday evening. He cites reasons other than work to increase the number of Friday evening classes each semester.

“I wouldn’t forget studying over the weekend, because it keeps you in a pattern, so you don’t forget to study. I also made friends,” he said.

According to Sobhani, another benefit of these classes is that they may keep students out of trouble, because they would be at school on a Friday night instead of out drinking, getting into trouble or facing other dangers associated with the weekends.

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