U colleges battle for enrollment, tuition dollars

The quest for more funding leads colleges to offer more classes that fill requirements in order to draw in more students.

Jill Jensen

Colleges within the University of Minnesota are competing to enroll more students in order to net more tuition dollars.

By duplicating courses traditionally available in other colleges and applying to have more of their courses satisfy liberal education requirements, colleges can fill more seats and make more money.

Tuition is the main source of revenue for colleges, and increased enrollment nets colleges more tuition revenue. With the current budget model, 75 percent of a studentâÄôs tuition goes to the college where the class is held, while 25 percent goes to the college they are enrolled in.

With budget constraints, colleges and departments are feeling the pressure to collect as much tuition revenue as possible, perhaps at the expense of studentsâÄô education.

To increase enrollment and thus revenue, there is inter-collegiate competition for more courses with a liberal education designator, said Walt Jacobs, department chairman of African-American and African Studies.

âÄúColleges are trying to figure out ways for students to take their classes,âÄù he said.

There is a perception that having a liberal education theme or core requirement, or ideally both, increases enrollment.

Robert McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, said that perception is incorrect for most courses. But a class like Biogeography of the Global Garden fills many seats because it is a âÄúdouble-dipâÄù course âÄî it meets an environmental theme and biological sciences liberal education requirement.

Of the about 700 classes per semester that meet liberal education requirements, one third of those meet a theme and a core requirement.

Chemistry professor Chris Cramer said this is a market-based approach that could twist the focus of existing courses.

While the original philosophy of liberal education requirements was founded to broaden studentsâÄô minds, Cramer said itâÄôs âÄúgrown a little out of control.âÄù

âÄúThereâÄôs a pressure to adjust that intellectual content to maximize enrollment,âÄù Cramer said.

As a department chairman, Jacobs said he wants to keep up with other departments and increase the number of liberal education classes offered.

On the other hand, he said he is worried that these additional courses will âÄúwater down the system.âÄù

Jacobs, who is a member of the Council on Liberal Education, which approves or denies courses the designator of a liberal education theme, said there is concern that these courses are overcoming others.

âÄúIf more courses are taught that have LEs, that kind of crowds out other courses that may also be valuable for students to take,âÄù he said.

All liberal education courses will be recertified beginning in 2014. McMaster said they will specifically look to see that tenure-track or tenured faculty are teaching the courses and that there is no âÄúcurricular slippageâÄù âÄî or deviation from course plans.

Poaching âÄòintellectual turfâÄô

Another way for colleges to increase revenue is by poaching âÄî duplicating classes commonly taught in another college.

âÄúThat is direct competition for those tuition dollars,âÄù Cramer said.

Cramer said this practice is inefficient in a time of strained resources.

In the College of Liberal Arts, Jacobs said departments are rewarded for hitting enrollment targets. Those that do are allowed to keep any surplus of the instruction budget from that year.

He said itâÄôs fair, but it puts a lot of pressure on departments.

Curricular conflicts arise when certain colleges teach something they see as âÄútheir intellectual terrain,âÄù McMaster said.

In order to correct these problems, McMaster will appoint a campus curricular committee by the end of spring semester to review curricular conflicts and new course proposals.

He said almost all peer schools have a campus-wide curricular committee.

The committee would review new courses proposed and negotiate curricular conflicts.

Statistics courses, for example, could be âÄúproblematicâÄù because there is both a School of Statistics and a statistics department.

âÄúThe concern is, to some extent, tuition loss, but itâÄôs also just a concern of intellectual turf,âÄù he said.