TYCA Report – 1 February 2014

By Sravani Banerjee

“Numbers Matter”

A recent survey of six California Community Colleges showed consistent results.  The campuses surveyed are Evergreen Valley College, Chaffey College, DeAnza College, San Diego City College, Ohlone College and Woodland Community College.  Although these colleges vary in size, location, student demographics, and course offerings, the results regarding class sizes, times courses are offered and ages of students are very consistent.

With regards to class sizes, almost all the campuses have a cap of 30 students for composition classes, while the cap for Literature classes ranges from 30-35 students. Literature courses at Ohlone College are capped at 30, while at Evergreen Valley College and Chaffey College they are capped at 35. Chaffey College does have a load factor of 1.25 on their writing intensive courses, such as the composition and creative writing courses.  San Diego City College has a cap of 25 for their literature and composition courses.  This was negotiated by their union to get closer to the number advocated by NCTE, providing smaller class sizes and consequently more attention to each student. Woodland Community College caps all English composition and literature courses at 28 students.   At DeAnza College, literature classes are capped at 45 students because of the lower paper grading load and transfer-level composition classes are capped at 30 students while pre-transfer composition classes are capped at 25 students because these students need more one-on-one contact with the instructor.

Faculty at these colleges unanimously agree that composition classes need to be capped at 30 or lower to compensate for the grading load and to allow for more student/ teacher interaction. As Margaret O’Rourke from Chaffey College states, “Class size definitely matters.  More students means less time for each student (e.g., to give feedback, to work with individually, to get to know, etc.) and less time for us to work (e.g., lesson plan, committee work, etc.).  For example, if I have 24 students in a class (as I do in one under-enrolled class this semester) and I spend about 20 minutes giving feedback on each essay, it will take me about 8 hours to finish grading and giving feedback on the class set.  However, if I have 31 students (as I most often do) and I spend the same amount of time per essay, it would take me a little over 10 hours to finish the set or each student’s essay would get 5 minutes less of my attention (which is a great deal of time and feedback lost).”

The general consensus regarding class times is that the morning time slots are the most popular followed by the evening time slots.  The mid-to late afternoon classes are hard to fill at most campuses. At Woodland Community College, all courses are offered between 10 and 3PM. At Ohlone College, enrollment totals indicate morning classes fill up faster and more consistently. Evening classes are a challenge because of the low energy levels of both teacher and students, and these classes tend to be longer, creating even more of a challenge. The most popular time period is 9:30AM to 2:00PM.  Day or evening classes work for required courses. Literature courses often fare better at night (or online) because they draw day students and students who work during the day and must take classes at night. At San Diego City College, classes are offered early morning through early afternoon and after 5PM, but rarely between 1-4 PM. At Evergreen Valley College, we have had to cancel afternoon sections of our most impacted class (English 1A) due to low enrollment. However, at Chaffey College the department success rates are generally the same regardless of what time these classes are offered.  The night classes tend to have more students who work full-time (and who are sometimes full-time students as well).  Many of these students are mature and hard-working, which is a great advantage.  Though they are most often successful in the classes, they sometimes have unique challenges that can prevent them from succeeding (e.g., missing class for work, being overwhelmed with their responsibilities, missing classes and work for family/children, etc.).  At DeAnza College both transfer and pre-transfer composition classes fill regardless of the time of day since they currently have more composition students than class spaces. For example, over the last two quarters (Fall & Spring) the instructor productivity in the department has been over 100% since the classes are full, and many instructors are taking a few students over cap.  However, the literature classes offered before 9am and after 3pm are often under enrolled.  For example, even though DeAnza College currently has over 500 English majors, they have had trouble filling classes in both those time slots and have cut back on their offerings of night literature classes due to a lack of demand from the students.

Most faculty surveyed value the diversity of ideas and positive interaction resulting from a good mix of older and younger students.  The older students model maturity and usually bring more life experiences and greater insight to the discussions, which helps the younger students understand literature at a deeper level.  They also typically outperform the younger students who are straight out of high school.  They are often better organized and more mature, which sets a higher bar for younger students.  Margaret O’Rourke from Chaffey College states, “diversity of any sort is vital to learning situations.  Having students of various ages usually means that the students in the class have had very different work-related and life experiences, which can enrich everyone’s learning.  Diversity helps students see issues from various perspectives; analyze their own perspectives more critically; and think more flexibly, critically, and creatively about those issues.  In my experience, mature students tend to be hard-working and committed and understand the importance and relevance of what they’re learning.  In these ways, they can serve as good models for the younger students who may not have adopted these attitudes yet.  However, I will note that I’ve had plenty of 18-year-old students who did share these attitudes.”

At Evergreen Valley College, student diversity in terms of varying age groups has been a tremendous advantage in my classes.  The older students always bring a wealth of knowledge and their unique experiences to our classroom discussions.  For example, an Iraq war veteran sharing his stories, or a sixty year old Chinese grandmother discussing her experiences with foot binding, can lead to an awe-inspiring and enriching discussion, a discussion which doesn’t often occur in a class of 18-20 year olds.  Undoubtedly, the diverse ages of students enhance the classroom environment. Older and younger students learn from each other and learn how to work with students of different backgrounds. Some older students feel insecure about writing but actually have high skill levels; some younger students are more confident but less focused or dedicated. All in all, diverse students lead to diverse approaches, opinions, and perspectives, all very conducive to the learning environment.