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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Smart guesses create schedule

Originally Published November 27, 2006

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 CSUNs 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).”

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