Seeking Answers from Overload Changes

Seeking Answers from Overload Changes

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By James Dugan At the beginning of this academic year, the University published a new set of restrictions for students attempting to take more than 14 credits per semester.  The new rules are displayed on the University website as follows:

First-year students may register for up to 14 credits in their first term (fall term). In exceptional cases, permission for 15 credits - arrived at only because of a single one-credit performing arts class or one-credit corequisite - may be secured through the Dean for First-Year Experience. For first-term, first-year students, no permission is given for more than 15 credits. For winter term: First-year students must wait for final grades from their first term in order to request a winter-term overload.

For all other students, overloads will be approved only in the following circumstances:

  •   Regular term overloads for summer internship credit (most work completed prior to term);
  •   One-time efforts to retake a failed course after re-establishing a positive academic trajectory;
  •   One-time efforts to regain on-time graduation status due to changed plans;
  •   Multiple four-credit courses within a normal four-course load, such as two or three four-credit lab-science or language courses in combination with one or two three-credit courses, along with additional corequisites;
  •   One-credit ensembles, applied lessons, performances, or studio coursework that pushes students above 14 credits; Independent research supervised by a professor.

The Spectator spoke with Suzanne Keen, Dean of the College and Professor of English, to get a better understanding of why these new restrictions were administered.  According to Dr. Keen, five years ago there was a dramatic increase in the number of students attempting to overload their academic schedule.  Students were stuffing their schedules with well over 15 credits in numerous subject areas.  This new trend resulted in the loss of enrollment for other students attempting to register for courses in their major.  I know what you’re thinking.  Why doesn’t the University just hire more professors and offer more courses?  Well, unfortunately, we can’t. The Board of Trustees implemented a hiring freeze in 2008, in the midst of the financial crisis. The endowment, which is managed by Makena Capital Management, performed very well compared with other schools during the financial crisis, according to Dr. Keen.  Understandably, the hiring freeze was held intact during the crisis, but even after the economy improved, the freeze was held in place. In 2013, the managed endowment grew to $1.345 billion, an increase from $1.262 billion as of June 30, 2012.  Despite the seven percent increase, the Board of Trustees showed no signs of lifting the freeze.

Three years later, it appears that the time to invest in a larger faculty has passed. 2016 kicked off with the worst fiscal 10-day start to a calendar year ever, including plummeting oil prices and increasing investor sentiment that growth in the U.S. has become stagnant. No one has any idea when the academic freeze will end, and it appears that it will not be anytime soon.  Nevertheless, to counter the hiring freeze the University is admitting fewer students than in previous years.

In 2008, the school increased admissions in order to manage the tough economic climate.  The increase in admitted students, coupled with the hiring freeze and an alarming increase in the number of overload requests proved problematic for both students and professors.

The Class of 2019 began the year with 455 admitted students, a number that will vary minimally over the next four years according to the school’s prized retention rate.  In comparison, the current senior class is 481 students according to the University’s 2014-2015 fact book. Keen says that the administration believes that 450-460 students is an ideal class size.

The new restrictions on overloads will limit the academic experience that many students hope to explore when they arrive at W&L.  Prior to this 2015-16 year, students were allowed to major/minor in five separate areas.  The new rules now limit their options to just three.  If a student wishes to double major, which is not uncommon, minor in mass communications and explore their passion for music, they will be forced to sacrifice an opportunity to be taught in one of these subjects. In many ways, the school is denying our undergraduate community avenues of education by imposing restrictions on the number of courses we can take.

Only time will tell whether the lower class sizes and new restrictions will prove beneficial for current and future students. Juniors and seniors have likely experienced at one time or another the stress and difficulty involved with registering for courses.  One can place blame on the economy or the Board, but this will not change what has already transpired.  At $45,617 per semester, a student should be able to explore many different areas of academia, and the University must focus more on being accommodating and understanding of student aspirations.

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