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Is the Bubble Bursting?

-James Osborne, News Editor

This semester, Mississippi College has seen a large increase in the number of students in classes and because of this, many classes have had to move to Self Hall room 210, the biggest classroom on campus. David Champagne teaches an Old Testament class with 94 people this semester, John Meaders’s Old Testament class has a total of 90, and Cliff Fortenberry has a Communication Research class with 48 students.

Students on campus may have noticed an increase in students in the Caf, the library, and the number of participants in Rush this year. Some students who came to MC because of the promised16-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio may be concerned that the MC bubble is about to burst. Administration said this increase in some class sizes is not unusual and there is nothing to worry about. According to administration, student population is actually down from last year.

“Our student faculty ratio is the same 15-to-1, actually down from 16-to-1 some years ago,” said MC President Lee Royce. “The overall number of undergraduates is not greater this year than last year, though there are 50 more people living on campus.”

Kyle Brantley, head of admissions, said there are 5,039 students enrolled this semester which includes graduate, law, PA, doctorate, and specialist populations. There are 592 freshmen this fall, the second largest group in the school’s history. Last fall had an incoming freshmen class of 615, the highest MC record. Brantley said that there is a higher likelihood for potential students to enroll at MC if they have had a campus visit, and MC has seen a 40 percent increase in on-campus visits over the past five years.

Jim Turcotte, the vice president of enrollment management and student affairs, said, “Eighty-five percent of all classes have less than 30 students. That is remarkable and something great to promote.” Turcotte said that the quality of interaction with professors is still strong, and it is still possible to have a great class experience with a class that has over 30 students. “Any college has freshmen and core classes that are going to be larger than other classes because they are entry level,” said Turcotte. “We have spaces for more students to fill before we hire adjuncts. We have unused capacity and it will take several years to fill it.”

Turcotte also said that enrollment is a complex thing and that the college is concerned with growing, but not more than MC can handle. “We can have 5,500 to over 6,000 students and not feel a change,” said Turcotte. “It is my responsibility to maintain enrollment for the school to sustain itself, and it is doing that well. Slow growth is much better than fast growth.”

This was confirmed by Vice President for Academic Affairs Ron Howard who said, “We want modest and measured growth. But we don’t want to grow so big we can’t take care of the students.” Howard said that the larger classrooms were part of an experiment this semester and some teachers are good at teaching large classes. “Normally we don’t do large classes. We are trying to manage room size better. I don’t think you will see many more big classes. It’s a possibility but I don’t see it.” Howard also said that about 45 percent of all classes at MC have fewer than 10 people, which is about 728 classes, and only two or three percent have 50 or more students.

Part of the reason for the increase in students in entry level classes is due to the steady increase in international students on campus and graduate students.

The number of graduate students has seen a 100-200 student steady increase in the past few years. There are 1,614 graduate students this year, up from 1,536 graduate students last year. In 2012, there were 1,523 graduate students, 1,442 in 2011, and 1,309 in 2010.

Mei-Chi Piletz, executive director of the office of global education, said that there are 380 international students at MC this semester compared to 206 last year. One hundred eight of those international students this year are graduate students and 77 are undergraduate students.

Champagne said of his Old Testament Class with 94 people, “It doesn’t bother me. I’m excited actually. But I don’t like that there are fewer chances for interpersonal communication with the students.”

Champagne had many positive things to say about his classes and this year’s freshmen class. “One of the big positives is that they are so punctual. All of my classes. The general freshmen class arrives 15 minutes before hand.”

Fortenberry said that his Com 102, or Communication Research, class of 48 people is two to three times greater in size than normal. When you add the number of students from the online Com 102 classes, the communication department has a record number of 80 people taking the course. “The folks at the School of Business have been very kind in allowing us to use their classroom,” said Fortenberry.

Fortenberry said that the bigger class and increasing student population is both good and bad, but mostly good. “It does make it very difficult. My work load is three times larger just for that class,” said Fortenberry. He also said he prefers to stay hands-on and interact with the students, but with a larger class, that is hard to do. “We have requested additional faculty for several years now. If we have large numbers of students consistently than I certainly I hope we will be granted that additional faculty.”

“One of the goals, of course, at Mississippi College is to increase student population to a sustainable level,” said Fortenberry. “We want to increase it to the point that it generates enough revenue because obviously, at a private university we are credit hour driven. An increase in student hours increases revenue and more revenue makes it possible to do more for our students. With more revenue we are able to offer more services and more opportunities for our students, make the campus more attractive, and much more. So I am in favor of an increase in student population up to a certain level.” Fortenberry said that if the student population becomes too big then MC will lose part of what makes the university unique. “For me it is a question of do we have classroom space and enough faculty to teach the students?”

Fortenberry added, “The admissions staff has done a great job and I can brag on them for having done that, but I also brag on them because many of them are my former students. They are doing an excellent job.”

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