As student enrollment reaches an all-time high for Northwestern State University, faculty and administrators have started to explore the implications of an increased student population and effects on the Natchitoches campus.
President of NSU Dr. Chris Maggio attributed the increase in students to several aspects, including higher retention rates, campus improvements and academic programs – both new and expanded.
While this trend of increased enrollment is “certainly one of the most meaningful milestones in the university’s long history,” as Maggio said in the NSU News Bureau press release, concerns have been expressed.
Dr. Jim Mischler, department head of English, Foreign Languages, and Cultural Studies, said that while the increase is exciting, there are some challenges the department has already had to face.
“[The growth is] adding some energy and excitement to our department and the university,” the associate professor of English said. “It’s just making sure everyone is getting what they need educationally and in terms of safety and security.”
He explained that in order to teach effectively, their department tries to keep class sizes to 25 students. The Association of Departments of English, an organization network that connects English departments across the country, suggests 20 per section.
Classes such as Composition and Rhetoric have expanded sections of 30 students and raised the number of sections offered. The increase has also resulted in the creation of a University Studies course section specific to English majors, which did not previously exist.
He also pointed out that most rooms in Kyser Hall – where the department is located – can only hold about 30 people, making the issue of class size not only a concern regarding learning environment but one of physical capacity as well.
With the amount of sections growing, almost all faculty members in the department are working overload, according to Mischler. This means faculty are teaching more than their usual teaching load, which they must receive special permission to do.
“For me as department head, overload situation is something that we can absolutely, no problem, deal with in the short term,” he said. “But… it gets much more difficult to do that, and if we get another increase next fall and we have the same number of faculty, that would be very, very hard [to deal with].”
Dr. Francene Lemoine touched on a positive outcome of increased enrollment as the director of the School of Biological and Physical Sciences, but she also expressed similar concerns.
“An increase in enrollment is great for the university as a whole because that brings in more tuition dollars, which can fund some new projects as well as some projects that have been postponed,” she said.
The creation of additional course sections was necessary specifically with some laboratory classes, and the number of students in lecture-based courses has also increased, again leading faculty to teach overload.
Lemoine gave one example of the effects of high enrollment with the number of Nursing and Allied Health students who must take the Human Anatomy and Physiology I lab. While nine sections were available to 268 students in 2016, there are now 337 students and 11 sections of the course this fall.
Most departments teach core classes to all university students, so increased enrollment directly affects everyone.
Health and Human Performance Department Head Dr. John Dollar said the increase in students has been crucial for their programs and his department’s expansion.
HHP has seen a growing interest in the pre-physical therapy program, and therefore by fall 2018 will offer doctoral programs for physical and occupational therapy.
“We have been able to capitalize on this opportunity… [and] that means that [HHP] and Allied Health can now provide opportunities for Occupational and Physical Therapy degrees,” he said.
Dr. Ali Ahmad, department head of Engineering Technology, also expressed positive implications coming from the new enrollment record – not just for the university, but life after academic careers.
“More students also means that we will have the opportunity to produce more contributing members to society, which will in turn improve the economic prosperity in the state,” Ahmad said.
Maggio said meetings will take place in the coming weeks to address these issues, as well as others concerning infrastructure on the Natchitoches campus such as housing and expansion opportunities.