Sunday, May 31

Lydiette De Jesus: Departments must meet student demand, expand classes for minors

Bunche Hall houses several UCLA social science departments, including the Department of Global Health. The department offers a minor, which has struggled to keep up with increased demand from students. (Erin Gong/Daily Bruin)

Nothing is more stressful than seeing the class you need to graduate fill up, with no waiting list in sight.

That’s the case with seniors vying for the Global Health 100: “Global Health and Development” next quarter. The global health minor, created in fall 2015, requires the class as one of its mandatory upper-division core classes. This year, students are having trouble enrolling for this course because the only class session in spring 2017 has already filled up, despite some seniors still needing to get in.

This challenge isn’t exclusive to the global health minor, though. It is a concern that up-and-coming minors with specific mandatory classes may soon face.

Departments offering, or at least looking to offer, new minors, like global health or food studies, need to ensure they have adequate resources for prospective students. This is especially important as the demand for these minors grow. Enough faculty should be teaching so that essential classes aren’t offered only once a year. And in the short term, classes that can only be offered once per academic year should have a greater number of enrollment spots than currently available.

It is safe to say that innovative minors generate significant support from the public, given their relation to campus initiatives. The department of global health has partnered with UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative and food studies with the UC Global Food Initiative. The minors also offer students new perspectives on otherwise overlooked subjects.

Yet department response to this growing demand has been underwhelming. The global health department sent out an email in June to its students saying that the Global Health 100 course was going to be offered tentatively in spring 2017. When students expressed their concern about the class only being offered once in the year, the department assured students that the class would be restricted to seniors if demand for the course exceeded the space available.

But eight months later, the department had yet to implement such a restriction. Instead it sent out an additional email suggesting seniors use their first pass to enroll in the class, despite that being unfeasible for several individuals because of pre-existing commitments.

Carla Del Cid, a fourth-year biology student seeking to graduate this spring, said she reached out to the department because she needed to use her first pass for upper-division biology classes. However, the department’s counseling assistant advised Del Cid to take the course in the summer – an unreasonable request to a graduating senior.

What’s more, the department only offered 75 seats for Global Health 100, despite the minor having 140 students, according to the department counselor. It’s safe to say the demand by far outstrips the supply of seats available.

Global health academic counselor Magda Yamamoto said the number of times a class is offered depends on instructor availability and finances. Because the minor is fairly new, the department decided last summer to only offer Global Health 100 once in the upcoming year, since it matched student demand then. The demand has since grown, but Yamamoto failed to point to specific ways the department is addressing that issue.

Growing demand stands to threaten course availability in other minors, too. Shahla Rahimzadeh, the academic counselor for the food studies minor, said the department has no issues with class availability for seniors at the moment, since the minor currently only has 51 students. Rahimzadeh said the issue of growing demand is on the department’s radar, but added that it wasn’t something the department is too concerned about.

This passiveness is what caused this year’s Global Health 100 debacle.

For this reason, academic departments adding or managing new minors need to plan and manage their resources better so that students who are enrolled are able to complete the required coursework. This means adding more sessions for the minor’s department-specific classes or, in the interim, expanding the capacity of currently offered classes.

So far, the space issue has only manifested in the global health minor. However, it’s a mistake to think that UCLA – a campus of nearly 30,000 undergraduates – can sustain a practice of accepting more students into a popular minor program than the required classes can handle. If these departments are to manage the influx of students and strengthen the calibers of their programs, they need to work to bring about more sustainable practices.

Departments should be responsible for managing and planning classes so students are able to access the courses they need to complete the degree they are paying for.

Students can’t be expected to invest time and money outside of the academic year because of the department’s lack of preparation. After all, seniors need solutions today, so that they aren’t stopped from walking across the graduation stage in June.


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