Business school leaders “streamlined” the minimum number of students needed to hold a course in the school, a spokesman said last week.
Officials made the change “in response to concerns raised by students and faculty” about last-minute course cancellations due to low enrollment, University spokesman Jason Shevrin said. Faculty said the core classes in the school – which all business students take – are now capped at 48 students instead of 35, and will average about 36 students.
But some faculty said they were left out of the decision-making process to change the cap on class sizes. A class will no longer be taught if fewer than 16 students sign up, faculty said.
Shevrin said the change will give departments “greater flexibility” to accommodate students taking required classes and also balance enrollment in elective courses, which tend to be smaller.
He declined to say whether faculty were involved in the decision, if any class sections will be cut, if any faculty will be laid off as a result or if it will impact the overall curriculum. He also declined to say whether the change will save the school money or if it is related to a budget deficit the school is in the process of repaying.
The business school created a plan with officials last spring to begin paying back half of a $13 million budget deficit – the result of the former dean’s overspending.
Paul Swiercz, a management professor, said the plan has forced officials to find new revenue streams and increase class sizes. But he said changing the size of a class is a decision usually made between faculty and officials, and not all faculty were consulted on it.
“You do a collaboration and build a consensus on what the curriculum is – it’s not typical for administration to set the caps,” Swiercz said.
Swiercz said the change became clear when the schedule of courses was released for fall 2016 and courses were capped off at 48 students.
He said one course he teaches, human capital in organizations, has been given a reprieve for the upcoming semester and will be capped at 38 students. He added that in the future, faculty members will have to petition to be given similar exceptions for their class sizes.
Marilyn Liebrenz-Himes, an associate professor of management, said that she has had class sizes of 48 to 50 students for the past few years and said she still prioritizes getting to know her students individually.
“I have asked for student pictures or taken individual pictures of the students just to learn student names more quickly and have found that these pictures are even more useful when I get requests for recommendation letters several years later,” Liebrenz-Himes said.
Barbara Stengel, the director of secondary education at Vanderbilt University, said officials must balance small classes – which students prefer – with larger enrollments that help their bottom line. She said small classes may be preferable to teach but can be unsustainable to finance.
She added that teaching styles also change to correspond with different class sizes.
“We know for sure that as class size goes over 18 to 20, instructors change the way they teach and shift to more time-efficient forms of evaluation as well as less interactive forms of instruction,” she said.