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Solution to Financial Woes: More Classes?

May 7, 2008

To relieve some of the financial strain at Kean University, administrators are turning to the tried and true: working overtime.

Facing a potential 17- to 24-percent tuition increase this year amid increasing budgetary pressures, officials at the public college in New Jersey are floating several proposals that would all in some way expand the number of classes taught and increase instructional time. In the most discussed plan, the university would move from an academic week in which most classes are taught Monday through Thursday to a six-day week, including Saturdays.

Moving away from its current schedule, in which Friday is saved mainly for special classes and studios, would place Kean on par with many peer institutions. California State University at Northridge, also primarily a commuter campus with many students who work full time, added Saturday classes about a decade ago to accommodate varying schedules. But some professors at Kean are wary of the potential changes, which the president and Board of Trustees must approve for spring 2009, when they’re slated to take effect.

Colleges in other states have pursued a similar path, but New Jersey’s public institutions have lagged. Now, facing a tightening state budget forecast, they too are being forced to consider longer academic weeks and other measures in an attempt to use the facilities they have -- and already pay to sustain seven days a week -- more efficiently.

The university estimates that on Fridays, for instance, only 13 percent of general-purpose classrooms are being used at any given time. To increase classroom utilization, one of the proposals includes an incentive plan that would discount 20 percent of tuition for a course taken on Friday afternoons and Saturdays. More classes would also be held in the morning, and an expanded week could make way for more sessions -- for example, holding class three times a week instead of two.

By flattening the schedule, the university says it could attract more students, get those enrolled out the door more quickly and add flexibility for those who work on the side. The change would effectively make the campus more accessible to different kinds of students, and according to university projections, it could keep the tuition increase to single digits. Under the current proposed state budget, the university would face $4.5 million in cuts.

“It’s simply not sustainable to maintain the current business model. This isn’t a one-time quick fix. We’re taking a very proactive, long-term approach,” said a Kean spokesman, Stephen J. Hudik.

Part of that approach would require hiring new professors, who -- at least at the outset -- would largely be adjuncts, according to Kenneth Sanders, Kean’s associate provost for academic affairs. The plan wouldn’t necessarily burden current professors with additional teaching hours -- at least for now -- since the faculty are bound by contractual obligations through the campus union.

Still, there has been an outcry among some professors. Many faculty members have been wary of speaking on the record, a pattern common to a university that’s seen its share of scrutiny of its campus climate and commitment to openness. Some have suggested that counter-proposals are in the works, and Sanders acknowledged that the response has been “mixed.” Critics say that students and faculty were never consulted during the process.

“It’s a cultural change,” Sanders said. “It’s not totally unusual in the life of a university to alter scheduling,” but at Kean, he added, he was unaware of any major shift in the past 25 to 30 years.

 

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