What are L&S limits on "low enrollment" courses? Are there required sizes for class sections?
This document provides guidelines concerning "low enrollment" thresholds and dispels myths about mandatory section size limits.
Low Enrollment Courses and Cancellation of Classes due to Low EnrollmentEnrollment in all courses should be monitored carefully throughout the registration period since any course or section cancellations must be made early enough for affected students to make necessary adjustments to their schedules. Since graduate students are often particularly slow to register, some departments have found it useful to email their graduate students to let them know that a particular course may be canceled if enrollments do not materialize.
College policy is that departments must contact their academic Associate Dean (or Associate Dean Nancy Westphal-Johnson for TA sections) to discuss enrollment and options in courses or sections falling under the following standard minimum enrollment levels:
- Courses numbered below 300 with fewer than 15 students;
- Courses numbered 300 to 699 with fewer than 12 students;
- Courses numbered 700 and above with fewer than 8 students.
L&S Departments may confer with their Academic Associate Dean to define departmental strategies to balance assignment of large and small courses. Workload proposals deviating from these minima (but which nevertheless meet the unit's teaching and other obligations) will be considered, and will be used to inform the deans' understanding of effective practice vis-a-vis "low" and "very low" enrollment courses.
For more information, please refer to the February 17, 2014 Plenary Session Presentation.
Class Cancellation DeadlineThe "Cancel Class Deadline" exists to encourage students - and, in particular, graduate students - to register in a timely fashion so departments and deans' offices can identify low-enrollment classes, make cancellation decisions, and reallocate resources. The Cancel Class Deadline for each coming semester will be the last day of classes of the term in progress. For this reason, students should be encouraged to enroll as early as possible to avoid
the risk of having a desired class canceled due to low enrollment, and both the Schedule of Classes and the Invitation to Enroll communicate this
deadline to students.
Departments have an obligation to share reasonably in the College's overall enrollment. If they restrict their enrollment deliberately and unreasonably, they should not be surprised if over time their staffing resources are diverted to other departments with heavier student loads. Departments are expected to monitor enrollments and make decisions accordingly; the dean's office will also monitor enrollments and will contact the department if questions arise about under-enrolled courses. (Departments and deans' offices can monitor department- and college-wide enrollment status using the "Under Enrolled Classes by Department" query, located in the UW-Madison "Query Library". )
If a class is canceled, departments are responsible for contacting students in a timely way about the cancellation of any course or section in which they are registered.
Other considerations regarding class limitsThere are no contractual limits on teaching assistant section sizes. Pedagogical considerations are the important criterion when determining appropriate section sizes. The number of students in a section and factors such as the type of instruction must be carefully considered, however, in determining the duties and time requirements of the teaching assistant. Departments should not plan major changes from previous section size patterns without consulting Nancy Westphal-Johnson or Brian Bubenzer.
The College recognizes that there are a number of valid reasons for class size limits and restrictions on course enrollments. These have evolved over time, in consultation with the Dean's Office. Some are physical (e.g., the size of the room or the number of lab stations); some are pedagogical (the need for small classes in Comm B, creative writing or foreign language courses); some are budgetary (the College may be unable to fund an additional section of the course regardless of the demand).
Chairs should remember that their department's courses belong to the department, not just to the individuals teaching them. (The latter are of course free to decide how best to cover the material, but the decision to offer and staff the course is the department's.) Decisions to restrict class size or course enrollment should be collective decisions of the department, in consultation with the Dean's Office, rather than merely the preference of an individual. That is, the instructor of a course should not be the only person involved in a decision to put special registration restrictions on a course or to limit its enrollment.