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Many college deans override 15-student class size guideline

Oklahoma Christian University administrators made the decision last semester to implement a 15-student class size guideline, encouraging college deans to keep class sizes around 15 students or more.

This semester, Chief Academic Officer Scott LaMascus said out of the 640 courses which Oklahoma Christian offers, 146 have fewer than 15 students. LaMascus attributes this statistic to the power college deans have to override the guideline.

“Deans have the ability to override that and say, ‘This one doesn’t have 15, but it needs to go anyway,’” LaMascus said. “Our obligation is to keep students on track toward graduation. It doesn’t mean we have to satisfy every course expectation. What it means is we have to help you graduate on time, and we’re going to do that.”

LaMascus said students should not fear the possibility of not graduating or not earning their degree on schedule.

“A class with 4-6 students is [not] an effective learning environment,” LaMascus said. “What we’re saying is that 15 is still a really nice small size, where if one or two people are absent it doesn’t just kill the discussion. When one person gets the flu, the professor doesn’t have to carry the class like a lecture instead of a seminar.”

The administration is avoiding any “knee-jerk” reactions to this guideline, according to LaMascus. The guideline will continue to see changes, especially at the departmental levels.

“The changes are going to be positive, and they are going to come from the departmental level,” LaMascus said. “If a major is graduating one person or less than one person per year, it’s not a robust kind of environment to learn and grow in. In peer-based learning, and even in Socratic teaching, you need enough people in the classroom to keep [the conversation] strong.”

If a student is concerned about not graduating on time, LaMascus suggests they speak with their academic advisor. According to LaMascus, a student will know if their class will be offered once the registrar contacts them.

“As a student, how do you know if that course is cross-listed?” LaMascus said. “How do you know if that course is taught to a variety of students, but only two signed up for this exact credit that you’re getting? That’s one of the places where technology is probably not serving us well. But OC is being so transparent that we’re telling you, get your courses on time, stay on your degree plan, talk to your advisor. The place you really should be learning that is from your advisor face-to-face.”

As the largest college at Oklahoma Christian, the department of liberal arts has had to consider making changes to some of its programs. Associate Dean of the college and Chair of the Department of Communications Brian Simmons said he understands the practical nature of this guideline.

“I understand why the university is talking about this,” Simmons said. “They are trying to make the most efficient use of the resources we have. There are a lot of degrees that, because of the small size of the university, you’re going to have courses in the upper-division that are less than 15 students.”

According to LaMascus, the communications faculty made some positive changes which will cause communications students to be in much stronger learning environments than in previous years. 

Simmons said during an analysis, the department looked at several courses which are often lower-level courses and asked if they needed to be offered as frequently as they have been in the past. If a class is offered less often, it tends to boost the overall enrollment of the class, according to Simmons.

“We’ve tried to ask the question, ‘What courses do we offer which are duplicated or are highly similar to courses in other departments, and could we perhaps make use of other departments’ courses in our degree programs?’” Simmons said. “We asked the question, ‘Could we actually combine within our department?’ We did that review in our courses, and we’re slowly beginning to implement what we found to be the conclusions of that.”

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