It was standing room only when several teachers addressed the Board of Education at the monthly meeting on Dec.10. Each stated that due to the increase in class sizes, they are unable to give students the time and individual attention they need.
As a result of the bargaining agreement ratified by the college and the faculty union last October, fall term saw classes with as many as 28 students when previously the maximum number was 24.
“When I consider the high-minded goals our community college claims to champion, I now feel a tremendous disconnect,” instructional support specialist and part-time writing instructor Gail Stevenson said.
Stevenson said that in her role at the writing center she is seeing an increase in students needing help with writing because their teachers don’t have time for them. At the end of her presentation she called the overloading of classes a blatant affront to the mission of the college and asked for it to stop immediately.
Writing instructors have been the most vocal on the matter.
“By increasing class sizes, students get less instructional attention, have less opportunity to participate in class and receive less feedback. Tuition may not go up, but the students are getting less education for their money,” writing instructor Kenneth Zimmerman said. “I don’t believe this is a proper strategy for a public education institution dedicated to student success.”
The message from teachers was that students are not getting what they pay for and that the college has chosen a course of action that contradicts Lane’s mission of student success.
“For students, they [the results of larger classes] represent a sort of hidden increase in tuition. Crowded together and receiving less of their instructors’ attention both in and out of class will continue to be a great loss to teachers and students alike,” English instructor Sue Williams said.
English and writing instructor Andrew Viles stated that the college could immediately and unilaterally bring an end to the bargaining agreement that allows the class size increases. He said that he knew of no teachers or union members who would object.
Turning his attention to LCCEA President Jim Salt, who entered into the agreement on behalf of the teachers, Viles said Salt would not object to the agreement being undone.
College president Mary Spilde disclosed that enrollment for winter term was down 26.4 percent compared to the same time last year. The possibility of a further tuition increase was also offered into the board discussion.
As is their custom, board members didn’t respond directly to those who came to speak. They did, however, make comments at the end of the meeting.
Board member Rosie Pryor invited Spilde and faculty leadership to go back to the drawing board and refigure class sizes. She added that they would need to come back with an explanation of where funds could be found to replace the anticipated financial benefit from the current agreement.
Board member Gary LeClair expressed his concern over the falling enrollment rate calling it a drastic decrease. He said that the college is experiencing decreases in virtually everything. Calling for fast action, he said he welcomed creative solutions.
Board member Matt Keating said he appreciated the teachers organizing, coming forward and tipping the board members off to the larger issues the college faces.
The Lane Faculty Council, which contributes to the quality of education at Lane as the deliberative faculty representative group on academic matters, is surveying teachers to determine the ways in which increased class sizes and decreased enrollment are impacting students.
Larger classes effectively mean fewer classes, and it is not known how many students may be missing out altogether. Teachers are being asked to provide information regarding the number of students they turn away from any given class.
At the Jan. 9 council meeting, however, teachers said that some students see that a class is full and turn away without making contact with the teacher. The council is in the early stages of gathering data and members are still determining which factors are impacting the situation and in what ways.
At the Board of Education meeting on Jan. 14 some potentially positive indicators for the future were discussed. First among them, Lane president Mary Spilde announced that state funding for community colleges was increased to $535 million from the governor’s previous figure of $500 million.
State funding for community colleges took a hit due to the recession of 2008, down 20 percent in 2011 compared to 2007. The governor’s budget for 2015-2017 proposes $500 million for the Community College Support Fund, a return to the 2007 level. However, costs have increased since then, and the proposal is well below 2007 funding in real terms.
Sen. Richard Devlin of Tualatin)and Rep. Peter Buckley of Ashland, known as the co-chairs, proposed their own budget that increases the CCSF allocation to $535 million for the biennium. Spilde said “If the May revenue forecast comes in up and there’s enough money, [that would get us] to 550. She pointed out that $550 million still wouldn’t be enough, however. Colleges are seeking a $650 million appropriation.
Commenting on President Obama’s proposal to make community colleges free, Spilde said that Lane would have to adopt evidence-based institutional reforms to improve student outcomes, so it would not be a free ticket for the college.
Nationally projected costs for Obama’s free college proposal are $60 billion over ten years. “Of course it’s unclear where that funding would come from or whether this has got any chance in a divided congress, but this is sure to be a topic of conversation when board members are in D.C. for the legislative summit later this month,” Spilde said.
Regarding Lane being in danger of crossing the 30 percent default rate on student loans for three consecutive years, the Board of Education members appeared to breathe a collective sigh of relief when Spilde reported that Lane may not be in danger of losing federal student loan funding after all.
Preliminary data shows that students from the 2012 cohort will likely have a default rate under the critical 30 percent threshold. Additionally, it may be possible to reduce the 2011 cohort default rate to under 30 percent by removing 31 borrowers from the calculation because the U.S. Department of Education has no record of them. Either way, Lane’s default rate would not be over 30 percent three years in a row.
Spilde thanked Director of Financial Aid Helen Faith and her team for their work in analyzing the data, commenting that searching for mistakes is intense and tedious work.
So far at board meetings writing instructors have been the most vocal in complaining about increased class sizes.
At the January meeting, however, media arts photography instructor of 31 years Dan Welton has his say.
Welton said that when he started teaching at Lane he had 15 students in his classes. Since then, he added, cameras have become more complex which means it takes much more time to teach just the basics of camera operation.
“Now I am expected to teach 27 students in what is called enhanced [classes], which is a euphemism for overcrowding,” Welton said, adding that his workload has not doubled. It has tripled.
He said that the way he is expected to teach photography is not feasible and that he can no longer offer students individual support.
Welton emphasized that cutting sections means decreased class availability for students. He said that for the college this results in a self-fulfilling prophecy where enrollments keep going down.
Regarding the effect on students who are in larger classes Welton said “I had a student last term who said I feel like I’m going to Lane Cattle College. I’m being herded into overcrowded pens, stuff fed and not being helped.”