September 2021 Advocate: AFT fights class cancellations

Enrollment Management

Early cancellations of classes & conversions of online classes to face-to-face resulted in loss of enrollments & hardships for faculty & students —
How AFT fought back

by Marianne Kaletkzy, AFT 1493 Executive Secretary

Between June 1st and July 27th of this year, SMCCCD canceled 141 Fall 2021 course sections: 64 at Skyline, 68 at CSM, and 9 at Cañada. A significant number of these sections were canceled due to having low enrollment—defined by our Fall 2021 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) as fewer than 10 students. Some others, all online courses, were canceled in order to add an in-person section of the same class. One of the most striking things about these class cancellations was the timing.

Many faculty were surprised to hear that the District was cutting Fall courses for low enrollment as soon as early June when we know that students often wait to register until the week before classes start, or even on the first day of class. Kristina Brower advises students in her role as Program Services Coordinator at the Skyline Child Development Center; she is also the parent of a current SMCCCD student. As Brower explained at a July 14th Board of Trustees meeting, “I don’t think that students are aware that they need to enroll in courses at a certain time….I’ve had the experience that most of our students don’t really start until August. I’ve been even asking my daughter and her friends, ‘Have you registered for classes?’ They’re, ‘Oh, not yet, not yet.’” Brower was joined at that meeting by 9 other SMCCCD faculty, students, and union representatives, who spoke in Public Comments about their concerns with the unusually early cancellations.

Most canceled sections were online and some faculty felt pressured to teach in-person

97% of sections canceled during June and July were scheduled to be online-only. Representatives from the District explained that part of the motivation for canceling online courses was to encourage students to sign up for on-campus courses instead; in canceling online courses, administrators hoped to fulfill the Board’s directive of having 30-50% of Fall 2021 sections on campus. Many online courses that were not specifically canceled for low enrollment were canceled because a dean contacted a faculty member and asked them to convert an online course to hybrid or face-to-face delivery. Some faculty readily agreed. Others assented only under pressure: for instance, when deans told adjuncts that a section of theirs would be canceled unless they agreed to bring it on campus.  Many deans chose to contact faculty about cancelling their classes over the phone so there was no written documentation of the conversation. A number of faculty reported that they felt pressured to agree to cancel their classes when they’d hoped to have more time to build their enrollments.

The Fall 2021 MOU that AFT negotiated with the District provides that “the District will not compel any instructional faculty member who was originally scheduled to teach online in Fall 2021 to teach in person.” However, the act of canceling online sections and scheduling new, in-person ones often forced adjunct faculty to choose between reluctantly returning to campus or having no work at all. Some full-timers similarly accepted on-campus assignments because they feared that adjuncts in their programs would lose sections if the full-timers insisted on remaining online.

District lost 506 enrollments in June and July by canceling sections

The cancellation of online sections was also devastating for many students who had chosen online classes due to their work schedules, family care obligations, and health concerns. As District data demonstrated, the District lost 506 enrollments in June and July by canceling sections that were almost all online. Meanwhile, the District only gained 381 enrollments through the addition of new sections that were almost all in-person or hybrid. In total, the District lost 125 enrollments through schedule changes in June and July. This finding squares with the experience of individual faculty members who agreed to convert a low-enrolled online course only to see even fewer enrollments in their newly created in-person section. Some of these new in-person sections were subsequently canceled in early August.

The finding that conversion to in-person resulted in losing enrollment, rather than gaining it, also aligns with what we know about student preference at the college that canceled the fewest online sections—Cañada. At Cañada, when administrators identified an online section that they thought was a good candidate for conversion, they first spoke with the faculty teaching the section. If those faculty agreed to a possible conversion, the students enrolled in the online section were contacted to determine whether they wanted to take the same course in-person. Students overwhelmingly indicated that they preferred to remain online—with the result that Cañada only canceled 9 sections, compared to over 60 at both Skyline and CSM.  A parent of a CSM student told AFT that her son “was very frustrated over the lack of transparency about whether classes would be in person or online. He ended up registering for mostly Cañada classes, because they were clearly marked, and teachers even reached out to get his input on whether they wanted to be online or in-person before just seemingly randomly switching to in-person.”

While the 125 enrollments lost through conversion represent a very small portion of the District’s total of about 33,000 enrollments, the data clearly demonstrates that moving courses on campus was not the panacea for enrollment declines that the Board hoped it would be.

AFT meets with Chancellor and Trustees

In response to the summer cancellations and conversions, AFT organized a series of conversations between affected faculty, AFT representatives, SMCCCD trustees, and Chancellor Claire. During these discussions, faculty explained the many challenges that canceled courses present for students, who may be derailed in their degree progress or experience significant learning loss when courses they were depending on are canceled. AFT representatives affirmed that we, like administrators, want to do everything possible to rebuild the District’s enrollments. We asked the District to restore sections that were wrongly canceled—that is, sections that had at least 7 students at the time of cancellation, or that were the only section of a particular course. We also proposed that the District offer options in every modality, including not just online and in-person but other possibilities like late-start classes, to see which are most effective at capturing students and rebuilding enrollment.

We have been happy to see that, over the past few weeks, the District has added 11 courses at Skyline and 12 at CSM to address student need. These are mostly late-start classes in order to give the sections time to fill and provide an option to students who were either late in making Fall plans or who signed up for a regular-start course only to find it didn’t work out. We have also been glad to see that some adjuncts who lost courses have been able to recoup some income through being assigned a late-start section. However, many other adjuncts whose sections were canceled over the summer have seen no remedy.

What is needed for the future

Moving forward, we are asking for two procedures to make the cancellation process more transparent and equitable. First, Chancellor Claire and the College VPIs must make a clear set of guidelines determining when, and under what circumstances, courses may be canceled for low enrollment. Second, faculty at all three Colleges must be sent a weekly enrollment report listing the enrollment of every section listed on Webschedule for the coming semester, so that they can verify that the cancellation process is being implemented fairly. For a number of years, faculty at Cañada have been sent an enrollment report every Monday. Only by being transparent about class cancellation procedures and enrollment data can the District ensure the trust of faculty—and partner with faculty to grow SMCCCD’s enrollments.