Freshman class size has swelled during the past decade – creating both a 28 percent increase in first-year students and difficulties keeping the number of students per class low. In April 1997, GW’s Department of Academic Affairs created a new position to solve such logistical dilemmas.
Craig Linebaugh, associate vice president for academic planning and special projects, said he is looking in to the class size problem.
“I don’t think we want to be like the universities of Maryland or Michigan, with classes of 500,” Linebaugh said.
Providing a quality education goes hand-in-hand with creating a classroom environment in which students are able to participate, making class size an important consideration, he said.
Each classroom has a maximum capacity, and class sizes are not supposed to surpass that cap. But brimming-over classes still can be caused when professors sign students into classes that already are filled.
This may be happening too often, Linebaugh said. As former chair of the Speech and Hearing Department, Linebaugh said he instructed professors not to sign anyone into a class before discussing it with him.
“It’s like a vicious circle sometimes,” said Jean Folkerts, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs. She said students pressure professors to let them into classes, even though they are filled. Then they complain the classes are too big and too crowded, she said.
Accepting extra students usually is left to the discretion of individual professors, Folkerts said. But some department-wide rules exist – and different departments deal with the issue in different ways.
Alia Labib, a sophomore in the School of Business and Public Management, is one of many students to register for classes via professorial sign-ins.
“No one has ever given me a hard time about signing me into a class,” Labib said. At least three times, she said she has been shut out of a class when registering by phone, but eventually was able to get in by asking instructors to sign add/drop registration forms.
“Even though the classes seem pretty crowded already, it has never been a problem,” Labib said.
Finding classroom space is difficult during the week, from Monday through Thursday, Folkerts said.
“It’s very easy to find classroom space on Friday morning, but I’ve tried to schedule courses on Friday morning and nobody will sign up for them, no matter how desperate they are,” Folkerts said.
Linebaugh said overcrowding also may be exacerbated by having too few chairs per classroom.
Packed classes also could stem from simultaneous electronic registration, Linebaugh said. If two students register for the same class over the phone at the same time, both may be accepted into the class – though space existed for only one.
Linebaugh offers a few possible solutions to the crowded classroom dilemma.
When particular sections of a class fill up, departments then simply can request the dean of that school add extra sections, Linebaugh said.
If only a few students get shut out of a class, they are urged to take the course during a future semester, unless the student needs the class immediately to graduate, he said.
Linebaugh also sees electronic technology as a viable answer to the increasing limitations on traditional class discussions. He said that in many cases, participation in some teachers’ “cyber” classrooms surpasses those in actual classes.