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Enrollment increases keep UCLA on its toes

By Julia Erlandson

June 24, 2007 8:59 p.m.

With new construction all over campus and living accommodations getting tighter, UCLA’s growth has been a highly publicized affair for a number of years, but rising enrollment has also come to affect students’ academic lives.

In 1999, the University of California set 10-year enrollment projections for each of its campuses. UCLA, which at the time enrolled 30,110 students year-round, was asked to increase that number by 4,000 students by the 2010-2011 school year.

Today, with three years to go, UCLA has met 87 percent of that goal, enrolling 33,590 students year-round during 2006-2007.

These figures count what are called full-time equivalent students, or students who take 15 units each quarter, rather than a raw number of students on campus, according to university spokesman Phil Hampton.

But at a time when the number of triple rooms on the Hill is steadily rising and students continue to report difficulties registering for overcrowded classes, university officials say they have taken a number of steps to ensure that enrollment growth remains manageable.

Helping students graduate in fewer years has been a primary strategy for dealing with the growth, said Tom Lifka, assistant vice chancellor for Student Academic Services.

“We have absorbed that (growth) through students moving through the system more quickly,” he said. “Every kid who stays is one you can’t admit … (and) demand is so high.”

Since the enrollment projections were set, the number of students graduating in four years or fewer has jumped from about 47 percent for the incoming freshman class of 1996 to just over 62 percent for the freshman class of 2003, according to the UCLA Office of Information and Data Analysis.

Lifka said one way the university was able to increase graduation rates was by encouraging students to enroll in summer sessions.

Today, nearly 80 percent of UCLA undergraduates attend summer session at some point, as opposed to about 50 percent in summer 2001, according to the Office of Information and Data Analysis.

Part of the reason for this increase is that in 2001 the state of California began offering funding support for summer session, allowing the university to provide financial aid for students enrolled during the summer, Lifka said.

Judith Smith, dean and vice provost for undergraduate education at the UCLA College, said she believes summer sessions can sometimes help relieve students’ stress because it allows them to lighten their course loads during the regular academic year.

“Some students cannot make the academic progress they need during (the regular school year),” she said. “Summer can be used as a valve to release the stress.”

JJ Zhang, a second-year anthropology and microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student, said she needs to take summer school in order to complete all the courses required for her double major and still graduate in four years.

“It’s pretty much the only way, because I want to graduate in four years,” she said.

This summer, she is enrolled in one summer session, during which she is taking two courses and doing research.

“Just because everyone’s already on break it’s sort of depressing, but it’s not too bad. It’s fine,” she said.

Lifka noted that the introduction of Expected Cumulative Progress, which requires students to complete a certain number of units toward their degrees each year, may have prompted other students to turn to summer session.

“Some students decided to make it a little easier on themselves,” he said.

But both Lifka and Smith said it is important that students do not lighten their course loads too much during the regular academic year.

The state provides about $8,500 a year in funding for full-time equivalent students, but in order to receive that funding, students must be consistently taking 15 units a quarter.

Before the 1999 enrollment projections were set, students tended to take about 12 units a quarter, Smith said. Now, most take at least 15 units.

By encouraging students to increase their course loads, UCLA was able to increase its number of full-time equivalent students without actually increasing the total student population, Hampton said.

Since the projections were set, UCLA’s enrollment head count has increased only by 1,177, though the number of full-time equivalent students has increased by nearly 3,500.

But having more students taking more classes has placed a strain on some of UCLA’s academic resources.

Lifka said the growth in student population combined with changing levels of interest in certain subject areas has led to overcrowding in some academic departments.

“We do have a huge problem with overwhelming over-enrollment in the social sciences and biological sciences,” he said.

Over the past 10 years, the university has increased the number of instructors in high-growth divisions, such as the UCLA College and the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, and both Smith and Lifka said other options are being explored as well.

Smith said the UCLA College now offers more freshman cluster courses and Writing II courses to help ensure students get lower-division and General Education requirements out of the way.

She added that each department is charged with determining demand for courses in its specific area.

“The department knows how many majors they have to graduate each year,” she said. “It’s up to them to make sure they’re offering the required courses. … The College would get involved if students were really having a hard time (getting the classes they need).”

But she and Lifka said it is important to distinguish between classes students need and classes they want, noting that many students simply have trouble enrolling in courses on the days or times they would prefer.

“When talking to students, the line is pretty blurry between what they need and what they want,” Lifka said.

Zhang said so far she has not had significant difficulty getting into classes she needs and is typically able to find another course that satisfies requirements she still needs to fill.

“There’s a wide variety of classes I need to take (to double major),” she said. “Like last quarter I couldn’t get into Chem 14, but I just took another class for anthropology.”

Another strategy the university may pursue for dealing with the growth is rebalancing, or increasing the number of graduate students in relation to undergraduate students.

More graduate students would essentially mean more available instructors, which could help accommodate undergraduate students, officials said.

Smith said graduate students currently make up about 7 percent of the UCLA College, and she would like to see that number increase to between 10 and 12 percent.

She added that rebalancing might also entail decreasing the number of undergraduate students in the College by a couple hundred.

The university may also consider restricting the number of students admitted to each program in order to counter overcrowding in popular fields.

Currently, most schools within the university do not consider applicants’ expected majors when admitting new freshmen. The exceptions to this include the School of Engineering and the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture.

Lifka said it is possible that in the future applicants’ expected majors may become a factor in the admissions decision.

“For high-demand areas, we (could) limit the number of admits or ratchet up the qualifications (required),” he said.

Though they are planning ways to accommodate growth, both Lifka and Smith said they do not expect UCLA’s student population to increase significantly beyond the 4,000 requested in 1999, at least not in the near future.

The University of California Office of the President, which sets enrollment projections for each campus based on a number of factors including available state funding and the campus’s physical capacity, is just beginning to discuss the next set of projections.

“UCLA is not in a position to grow,” Lifka said. “You’ve got other campuses in a position to grow,” such as UC Merced and UC Davis.

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