NEIU Overcrowding Issue — Classroom Assignment Mishap

Small Classroom, Big Class

A saved seat is typically expected by anyone who registers on time for their class — having a chair to sit in is seen as a given. But early this semester, in classrooms with fewer chairs than registered students, a number of attendees were left with no choice but to stand through their first few lectures.

According to the assistant to the provost, Ana Villate-Miller, 12 departments at NEIU had sections with a greater student capacity than the rooms they were assigned to. One-third of those departments were burdened with three or more overcrowded classes.

The sections have since had their classrooms reassigned.

“They did it very quickly,” said Biology Professor Dr. Marijo Readey. “We had a room by the next meeting.”

Readey’s Natural Environment class in the Fine Arts Building, room 203, was meant to seat 56 students but the class had 75 students in total.

Two years ago, Readey’s Animal Behavior class was also overfilled. They were moved through several classrooms before being assigned a lecture hall. The class consisted of 35-40 students but was initially assigned a lab for 24 students. It took them four class sessions to get a new classroom.

According to Villate, the overcrowding problem lies with teachers and departments giving overrides to students.

“If more students are enrolled than the set capacity it’s because overrides have been given,” Villate said. “We added sections because we saw a demand for a particular course that needed an additional section. But for students who are going to class on the first day and seeing if they can get in, we don’t know that value until it happens.”

The size of a class, and whether or not it is over-crowded, can be attributed to the number of sections of a specific class available per semester

But Readey said that for her Changing Natural Environment class this semester she “didn’t give one override to a student for this specific class.”

“Although students do attend on the first day with hopes of getting into a desirable class, that was not the case here, everyone who showed was registered,” said Readey. “If there were overrides they did not occur at this end.”

“We (Academic Affairs) don’t like to see the section capacity decrease or increase because (teachers) expect more students to come into the class,” Villate said. “First, let’s see that those sections are filled and then if we have students that are waiting to get into a section then we have the justification for a need of an additional section.”

Tina Pennekamp, Administrative Aide for the Biology Department, said that the problem begins with academic affairs “only taking the initial proposed schedule submission” for assigning rooms.

“But that’s not going to be reality,” she said. “Caps(capacities) change, classes get added.”

“Whoever (said) that they submit multiple proposed schedules…they don’t send proposals in after we’ve done room assignments unless they are making a significant change to the section,” said Villate. “We have moved away from resubmissions for a couple of semesters now.”

According to Pennekamp the initial proposal for some of these overcrowded classes did have their capacities set at 55, however, 20 seats were known and reserved for academic advising for new student registration. Villate said that academic affairs is aware that these seats are held for incoming freshmen but that they are not alerted to exactly how many are placed on reserve.

Villate said that there were adjusted proposals right after advanced registration, after classrooms were assigned, alerting that the capacity had grown to 75 students but the departments “did not look at their room assignment and ask for a bigger room then.”

But Pennekamp explained that departments, when submitting the proposal for a capacity increase, couldn’t access information regarding the room’s capacity they are assigned to. “Room scheduling software must be run more than once,” she said. “Or much closer to the start of the semester in order to accommodate the hundreds of changes that are submitted along the way.”

Pennekamp also said that some classes had also been canceled, additions or more sections required, and adjustments to enrollment even after advanced registration. This could account for some classes having a greater demand than first anticipated.

The size of a class, and whether or not it is over-crowded, can be attributed to the number of sections of a specific class available per semester. Two sections offered for a total of 100 interested students would — excluding factors such as the section’s position during the day — accommodate 50 students each; four sections offered for the same number of students would accommodate 25 each.

But Villate said this also aids Academic Affairs in rectifying the situation in a timelier manner than years before when there had been more sections available.

“It helps to have (fewer) sections,” Villate said. “But it’s not the driving force behind it. You can’t have the same number of sections or more sections if there are not enough students to put into those sections. There’s less demand.”

“The running joke apparently now in a lot of places is that at Northeastern we believe in small classrooms,” Readey said. “But now it has taken on a new meaning.”