Sept. 2022 Advocate: AFT works to reduce class size minimum

minimum enrollment policy

AFT works with Trustees and Chancellor to reduce class size minimum

Hoping to avoid the excessive class cancellations that plagued students and faculty during Summer 2021 — and hearing from concerned faculty that this scenario seemed already to be repeating itself — your Contract Action Team (CAT) met frequently during July to forge an action plan to address the situation, which has been focused largely on the minimum enrollment policy set by the Board of Trustees (in September 2014) at 20 students per class.

Over the summer, with the school year fast approaching, the District’s negotiating team had refused to bargain on the enrollment minimum, and District leaders had not communicated any information on cancellation or enrollment minimums with deans, faculty or students. CAT members feared that without guidance from leadership or any administrative procedures around the policy, some deans might cancel courses indiscriminately and/or without faculty or student input or transparency around their decisions.

Working with Chancellor Claire and the Board of Trustees

CAT began by raising awareness with Chancellor Claire and the Board of Trustees, first that the issue was not being remedied through bargaining, and second on the catastrophic effects that early cancellations might have on our students’ lives and educational plans, our adjunct faculty’s livelihoods, and inevitably on total enrollment numbers and the reputation of the District. AFT reps also explained that many new students choose to enroll in classes up until the first day of the term. AFT President Monica Malamud talked to Chancellor Claire about the detrimental effects of the 20-student enrollment minimum and urged him to contact leadership right away with a message to allow Fall 2022 courses with fewer than 20 students enrolled to run.

CAT members spoke with the majority of Board members individually, asking among other things that the issue of early cancellations be agendized at the next BOT meeting for in-depth discussion. While the Board chose not to do so, on July 28th, new Student Trustee Lesly Ta used her platform as Trustee to share data from a recent student survey she’d conducted to gather feedback and prioritize student voices on the topic of canceled classes. Ms. Ta, a fashion and merchandising student at Cañada College and mother of two young children, summarized the feedback she’d gathered from more than 1,100 SMCCD students in less than a week, showing that class cancellations have a clear and negative impact on the vast majority of students who have experienced them. She also provided the Board with a full report, including the text of student testimonies. She explained further that the Board Policy on enrollment minimums was out of step with low enrollment realities, having been created during 2014, a time of very high enrollment. (View SMCCCD Annual Enrollment Trends: 2011 – 2021)

Chancellor lowers enrollment minimums to 10 students

As a result of these collective actions the Chancellor notified upper management not to cancel classes with fewer than 20 students enrolled, sending a message to all faculty on July 27. He stated, “I have worked with our college presidents and vice presidents and have requested that we drop the enrollment minimums for Fall to 10 students (rather than 20)” and concluded: “I will [be] working with our leadership groups to convene a District ad-hoc committee this fall to develop long-term recommendations and to support our college-level enrollment management plans.”

Many of the points advocated by Ms. Ta, by CAT members and by individual adjunct faculty who spoke to the Board are concerns shared by faculty and students throughout California community colleges. The broader issues were recently highlighted by CFT President Jeff Freitas and Jack McKeever, LA College Faculty Guild President, in their commentary “Canceling community college classes is shortsighted.”

Following Chancellor’s Claire’s direction to temporarily lower the minimum enrollment for a class to run, AFT members kept pushing for a permanent change to Board policy. At the 8/24 Board meeting, AFT members spoke during Public Comments to express the need for a reasonable Board Policy on canceling classes for low enrollment. Sarah Mangin-Hinkley (CSM English) explained why lower class minimums are necessary to fulfill our District’s commitments to our students and community, while David Laderman (CSM Film) discussed why a later timeline for cancellation, codified in Board Policy, would give courses time to fill and better serve our students. They thanked the District for lowering the Fall 2022 minimum to 10 students (rather than the usual 20) and asked the Board to agendize class cancellation policies so that students, faculty, staff, and administrators can work together to create a revised policy that grows our District’s enrollments and, most importantly, puts students first.

AFT 1493 will continue to work to shape policies that offer an equitable working environment for faculty and the best possible learning environment for students. Want to get involved in our campaign? Join our Contract Action Team by attending our CAT meeting this Friday, September 9, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at this Zoom link:  All AFT members are welcome, even if you’ve never been involved with CAT before. Looking forward to seeing you!