September 2021 Advocate: AFT & Senate working on class cap policies

Class Size

Academic Senate and AFT work to give faculty more input on setting class caps

by Evan Kaiser, AFT 1493 CSM Executive Committee Co-Rep.

On August 16, members of the District Academic Senate (DAS) and AFT held a Flex Day workshop titled “Workload, Pedagogy and Class Caps” to discuss how class caps affect faculty workload and teaching effectiveness and how to establish a reasonable district-wide policy for class caps. More than 100 faculty attended the workshop.

Last May, 188 faculty across the district and across disciplines responded to a DAS-AFT survey asking about the process for determining class caps in their Divisions. Notably, 60% said their current class cap did not meet their pedagogical needs, and about 75% said the process for determining the cap was not sufficient. Only 12% reported an official procedure for determining class sizes as a department each semester, and the vast majority — 92% — felt that more faculty input was needed.

To understand what a more consistent, principled approach might look like, we sat down to discuss the following two questions during the Flex Day session.

What is the current process for determining class caps in your division?

The majority did not know how class caps were determined or hadn’t had any conversations about them. One attendee wrote, “When faculty ask why the cap is what it is, the answer is ‘it’s always been that number.’” Another said, “We have no idea. The process is not transparent.” And one Career and Technical Education (CTE) instructor wrote that the caps “often change from semester to semester,” seemingly without rationale.

However, a significant number of faculty did collaborate with their Deans in determining class caps. In one case, a Dean and administrators, with input from instructors, worked together to lower class caps in their department by 2 seats. In another, instructor advocacy led to lower enrollment caps for honors courses. It’s clear that collaboration and ongoing input from instructors were key elements in their process.

Staffing levels, facilities, and equipment were also found to determine class caps. One instructor cited the inverse relationship between class size and the number of full-time faculty — the more faculty in the department, the lower the class size, and vice versa. Room size and the availability of equipment, such as computers in a lab, also played a role.

In rare cases, an external professional association mandated a maximum enrollment (e.g. respiratory therapy.) More commonly, as with English composition courses, a professional association’s recommendation for smaller classes did not influence SMCCCD to reduce class sizes.

What do you think the most effective process for determining class caps would be?

Overall, faculty called for more consideration of discipline expertise in consistent discussions with Deans and administrators about class caps, drawing from the pedagogy, curriculum, SLOs, modality of instruction, and the needs of students (their ability to succeed independently, the extent to which embedded or external learning support is needed, extent of individual accommodations typically needed through the DRC, etc). If administrators consider enrollment trends and finances in their decision making process, those should be shared with faculty.

It was also proposed to develop contract language around class caps and to potentially mention caps in the Course Outlines of Record (CORs), subject to evaluation in each Program Review cycle. Since class caps vary by discipline, one group proposed a District-wide rubric which might incorporate factors such as (1) the comfort of students with material, including the “hands-on” nature of a subject; (2) the availability of facilities and equipment; (3) what level of wraparound student support is needed; (4) the number of sections regularly offered; (5) the course type and modality; (6) safety protocols; and (7) constraints imposed by accreditation standards.

Get Involved!

If you are interested in helping to develop a class size policy, please sign up to join the DAS/AFT Class Size Task Force! The group will convene soon and work during Fall 2021 to develop a proposal in time for contract negotiations.