A student emailed me about overloading into a course.
On one hand, I really want to stick tough and say no. We've set course number limits where we have for good reasons, and those reasons haven't changed. When we overload classes, we dilute the educational experience of all the students in the class.
The student didn't get registered in a timely manner for whatever reason. One potential reason is that in order to register, students have to pay a deposit up front. For students who are most hard up, that deposit's hard to pay. Students rarely mention that reason, however, either because that's not the reason they didn't get registered, or because they're too embarassed to acknowledge that as a reason.
Of course, we offer fewer courses because the taxpayers are less and less willing to fund public education, and being a state school, we depend in good part on tax funding.
Ideally, we would fill every seat in every class ever term. That would mean 100% efficiency for course enrollment.
Ideally, every full-time student would be able to take a full schedule of courses every term (according to their plans and such).
If we met those two ideals, then full time students would finish in four years. When they can't fill their schedule appropriately, students take longer. When they change their minds a bunch, they may also take longer. Lots of things can contribute to students taking longer than four years to graduate. As an educator, I'm not troubled by students who graduate in five or even six full-time years.
But most taxpayers don't want to fund students for more than a minimum; many taxpayers would rather stop funding the state university system altogether, it seems. And so the system budget shrinks, and the numbers of seats we can offer shrink, but we need to maintain enrollment on our campus.
The thing is, so long as taxpayers think of a university education primarily as a private good, something that benefits the graduate, then minimizing support for the state system makes sense to them. If a taxpayer sees a university education as being in large part a public good, something that benefits the community as well as the graduate, then paying for the system makes better sense. Tax-based funding for public education has dropped across the board in the US, and that drop suggests that fewer people see education as a public good. I hear lawmakers at all levels talk about cutting taxes and I wonder at where we're headed. And I sometimes wonder how many of our students' parents think of a college education as a public good.
But in between the rock and the hard place are instructors and students. So I have to decide to allow the student to overload my class or not.
And while part of me wants to stick to the numbers, the other part of me sympathizes greatly with the student. I certainly don't want to take out my frustrations about the system, taxpayers, legislators, and poor administrative planning on the student.
How do I balance the lowered educational experience of the other people already registered with this student's educational experience? The class is already packed; how much does adding one more reduce everyone's experience? How much might this particular student add? Or not?