UC Clermont has made substantial cuts this semester to low enrollment classes as a way to cut deficit spending and find savings in a time of economic distress for the college.
According to the University of Cincinnati’s 2017-2018 budget plan – which is approved by UC’s Board of Trustees, UCC was expected a $3.2 million loss in revenue for last year. Although this projected revenue loss was not as drastic as originally anticipated, the college ran a deficit of roughly $1.4 million.
The plan cited a continued decline in enrollment over the past five years as the justification for the necessity of cuts being made to UCC’s budget. This plummeting enrollment is something that Dr. Greg Loving — department chair of UCC’s social sciences department – can attest to, saying, “We’ve probably lost a thousand students in enrollment the last six years or so.”
Data from UC’s Office of Institutional Research shows that UCC enrollment comprised 6.3% of the university’s total student population in 2017, down from 8.1% in 2013.
This low enrollment, according to Dr. Loving, is the result of a “perfect storm,” of a low national unemployment rate coinciding with less populous graduating classes from UCC’s top feeder high schools.
Jeffery Bauer, Dean of UCC, also attributes the college’s current financial troubles to these same factors, citing a 3.9% unemployment rate in Clermont county, a rate coinciding with that of the national average. “When unemployment is very low, that’s bad for a college like ours,” he said.
The college hit its peak enrollment, according to Dean Bauer, in 2009, a time of economic recovery for Americans after the recession of 2008. Enrollment data for Fall of 2009 shows a total headcount of 3,713 students. For comparison, the total headcount of UCC students in Fall 2017 was only 2,030 students.
“We’re expecting a fairly large enrollment bump in the Fall of 2020,” Dean Bauer remarked on the increased number of students graduating from local high schools in the next two years.
Low enrollment has been a major factor impacting the college’s financials, as there are less students to pay tuition which equates to a loss of revenue for UCC.
“There was about $400,000 in cuts during the last fiscal year,” said Dean Bauer, with additional cuts of around $600,000 in cuts being made to UCC’s budget last July. Many low enrollment classes were cancelled as a result of these budget cuts.
Many courses with an enrollment of less than twelve students have been under increased scrutiny by both the college and the state. Consistently offering these “boutique” courses poses an “economic challenge” to the college said Dean Bauer.
“We pride ourselves on being able to offer small classes,” said Dean Bauer, but with low enrollment and state standards it has become increasingly more difficult to offer them.
According to Dr. Loving, about two dozen classes were cancelled in the social sciences department alone due to low enrollment. Until recently, the college has failed to adjust the number of courses offered to reflect lower enrollment; this, he said, was intended to preserve variety.
Course variety is source of concern for Dr. Kimberly Jacobs-Beck – English professor and former Interim Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at UCC. “We felt like it was advantageous, when we were doing well, to be able to offer students a wide range of [courses].”
Dr. Jacobs-Beck claims that a lack of variety in course offerings might not allow for students to broaden their horizons. “That’s why people hire college graduates,” she says, “it’s not because they have technical expertise, it’s because they have a broad-based college education.”
When asked about increased course caps, or the maximum capacity for a given course, Dr. Loving acknowledged that because of course cancellations there has been an increase in course sizes, particularly for online courses. He empathizes with students who “…need better academic skills…” and have been relegated to online courses, stating that it’s harder to maintain an engaging class experience in online courses with higher enrollments.
This increase in course caps for online courses has amped up the pressure placed upon the professors who teach them. Bernadette Dietz is a professor of sociology at UCC, currently teaching three online courses. When asked about increased course caps for online classes, professor Dietz acknowledge that before the cancellations courses were capped at twenty to twenty-four students, “My sociology classes now have thirty-five [students]in each class section,” she said.
Professor Dietz also commented on how these increased course sizes have affected her interactions with students, saying, “…having so many additional students does impact my ability to interact with students as often as I used to be able to do.” She also discussed how she has been forced to limit the amount of written assignments given to her classes, as to not overburden her grading process. “It is taking some adjustment for me,” she said.
The English department, according to Dr. Jacobs-Beck, has been particularly affected by this increase in course caps due to fewer available classes. “We’re starting to look at a lot more work for professors,” she says, as there is a “labor intensive” nature to grading written assignments and giving feedback to students.
When asked about the new pressure placed upon professors teaching online classes, Dean Bauer commented:
“Yes, there’s going to be a little bit more workload on [faculty]for those particular courses, but keep in mind, if it’s an online course you don’t have to drive here to teach it and a lot of those materials can be set up in advance.”
Dr. Loving also acknowledged that there is a distinct lack of regulation with regard to online courses, stating, “…the rules are all over the place.”
While expressing concern about the college’s deficit spending, Dr. Loving stated that within two years the college will have completely burnt through its reserves and will have to begin borrowing money.
Dean Bauer contests that view, saying that the college’s $4 million of spendable reserves should be able to weather out the storm over the next two years, while still retaining about $1.4 million in reserves for maintenance and parking.
Despite the dire façade of the current budget situation, Dr. Jacobs-Beck is hopeful that the college will bounce back, but worries that new members of the administration aren’t familiar with the nuances of the UCC experience.
But Dr. Loving has a different take on events, saying, “From kind of an evil [department]chair’s perspective, we’re cleaning up some problems that we’ve been working on slowly, but probably not quickly enough.”
Noting the gravity of UCC’s current economic situation, Dean Bauer stated “Yes this year is going to be tough, next year is going to be tough, but then we’re going to be back in good shape.”