Provost’s office to address over-enrollment in departments struggling with inflated class sizes, large advising loads

SUNY distinguished teaching professor of biology Robert O’ Donnell presents to his BIOL 103 : Human Biology class (pictured above). Biology, along with communication, political science, chemistry and the School of Business, is one of five overenrolled departments the Office of the Provost intends to aid. (Izzy Graziano/Knights’  Life Editor)

The Office of the Provost has announced an initiative to aid five departments that have consistently been overenrolled. 

The move comes in response to a surge of interest in certain undergraduate majors, according to Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Stacey Robertson. The majors that Robertson plans to target include biology, chemistry, communication, political science and international relations, as well as majors within the School of Business, according to Robertson.  

Robertson is in the process of addressing over-enrollment at Geneseo with various administrative personnel. Settling concerns of advisement, infrastructure and faculty availability for students are her main objectives. Moving forward, Robertson intends to address each concern in phases.

To help overcome advising and scheduling challenges, Robertson is considering introducing more visiting professors and recent PhDs to overenrolled programs. In addition, efforts to promote other academic programs that are not overenrolled are being explored.

“We’re still working on honing and prioritizing those ideas, but the important thing is that we understand that this is a serious issue,” Robertson said. “The solutions are going to be both short-term and long-term, and we are willing to put time and resources toward the issue.”

Despite the drawbacks, Robertson feels that the existence of over enrollment actually demonstrates strength in the academic programming.

“This is a good problem to have,” Robertson said.  “It represents not only an eagerness for students in those areas, but it also means we have great departments.” 

Associate professor of communication and chair of the department Andrew Herman applauded Robertson’s planned measures. 

“The provost is the first administrator in my 16 years who has taken this much of an active approach to addressing this issue,” Herman said. “If there are ways to utilize marketing, admissions and individual departments … let families and incoming students know that, in fact, you can be in lots of different majors and go down lots of different career paths. There might be more students who are choosing majors that they are more excited about and help [decrease over-enrollment].”

Due to over-enrollment, advising students have become a challenge for faculty, associate professor and chair of biology George Briggs said. 

“We average close to 50 advisees per faculty member,” Briggs said. “It makes it harder to meet with students who are in our classes when they come in and ask questions.  It’s harder for us to do as good a job advising because you don’t know everybody—you don’t remember everyone from the last time you met with them.”

The consequences of over-enrollment also include limited faculty availability for classes, according to acting chair of the political science department and lecturer in international relations Jeremy Grace. The increase in students has not been met with a comparative increase in faculty, leading the department to rely on adjunct professors, Grace said. 

“We’ve been growing very rapidly over the past 15 years, but we haven’t had a corresponding increase in the number of faculty,” Grace said. “The problem we confront is we have a growing number of students who just simply can’t get into classes that they need to graduate. This has been quite problematic—obviously for students, but also for professors in terms of scheduling required courses.”u