Thursday, August 23, 2012

End of Summer Bummers: Which Way the August Wind Blows

In addition to teaching, I've been working as a department chair for the past two years. Just this semester, I've gotten used to the hectic pace of the first couple weeks of the semester. My main concerns this week (classes begin Monday) are to staff courses in which adjunct instructors found they couldn't cover those sections only recently and cancelling low enrolled classes. It's the latter that's become difficult this semester.

While no hard numbers are yet available, estimates put enrollment at my college down about 2%. This seems to be in line with the general trend across the country and in my region. At my school, we generally cancel courses that have under ten students enrolled as they aren't deemed cost effective for the institution. For me, the issue of lower enrollments directly translates into informing adjunct faculty that the class they were counting on teaching (and being paid for) is no longer happening. Of course, that leaves them little time to figure out alternative plans. I'm going to have to cancel two of a particular adjunct faculty's courses with no others to offer. I've hung out with this guy and met his kids and I now have to tell him that his income is going to be significantly diminished for the next few months.

As I'm sitting at my desk, hoping against hope that low enrolled classes pick up a few more students at the last minute, I read Sarah Kendzior's piece about adjunct life in anthropology, reminding me of my own time in that world (I'd forgotten until now, but I wrote a similar post to this one just over a year ago...though the enrollment and class cancellation situation is worse now). It's all enough to make someone bummed about the future of higher education.

On another enrollment related note, I'm reminded of the low profile of anthropology among college students. As I'm at a community college, my department is an amalgam which includes anthropology, sociology and psychology. Out of those three disciplines, we by far offer many more sections of psychology classes, and all of the intro courses are currently fully enrolled--no cancellations there. Most of the students taking these courses are doing so to meet elective degree requirements so they do have options. Psychology's popularity as an elective choice is simply due to its better name recognition. I do wonder if anthropology was branded better if enrollments would improve (I'm truly discouraged that one of the courses I'm cancelling is an anthropology section).

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