Officials at Bunker Hill Community College projected an enrollment increase of 7 percent this semester, so they were taken aback when, two weeks before the start of classes, they discovered the institution’s headcount was up more than 20 percent.
“We started looking at sections – particularly in developmental math and reading and writing – and noticed that they were almost completely full,” said Leonard Mhlaba, dean of arts and sciences at Bunker Hill, in Boston. “So many students come in and register late that we realized if we’re at this point with two weeks left until classes start, then we’re really going to be in big trouble when they actually start.”
Not only is the institution’s headcount above 10,000 for the time in its history, but its number of full-time equivalent students has risen by more than 22 percent to nearly 5,900.
Many community colleges have been planning for 10 or 20 percent increases in enrollments for months, but Bunker HIll is scrambling because of its last-minute spike. Bunker Hill senior officials called an emergency meeting late last week and decided to add 40 new classes to accommodate as many additional students as the institution possibly could before it begins turning students away.
Most of these sections are introductory or remedial humanities or mathematics courses, said Mhlaba, noting that the institution does not have the facilities or finances to add corresponding laboratory sections for many more science courses. The 40 new classes will host a maximum of 22 students each, allowing for an increased capacity of 880 students.
As an institution whose facilities are already bursting at the seams, Bunker Hill will rent space off campus for most of the additional sections. Mhlaba said the college was able to take advantage of its pre-existing relationships with a local high school and a centrally located office complex near the Boston waterfront in asking for their help to host these overflow classes.
Additionally, to maximize space efficiently on its own campus, Bunker Hill will be hosting classes late into the evening, including two courses  that start at 11:45 p.m. and end at 2:30 a.m.
“We’re just trying to find space wherever we can and use every hour we can,” Mhlaba said. “We’ve kicked around the idea for these late-night courses for a while and just recently said, ‘Let’s give it a try.’ For some students, who work the night shift, this is the only time they can come to class. Also, it wasn’t that difficult to get teachers to teach it. I’ve had more than a few instructors say they’d be happy to teach a midnight course if we added more in the future.”
Staffing these overflow classes has been a challenge for Bunker Hill officials. Mhlaba said full-time faculty members who already have a full load of courses for the semester are being asked to take on additional classes if they are able. These instructors, he said, will be paid for their extra classes on a separate contract.
“We don’t have to pull people’s arms to take on extra courses,” Mhlaba said. “They will only take on as much as they can. Still, as demand grows, we may find ourselves having to bring on more and more adjuncts.”
These additional courses will start next week, a week later than this week’s start of the fall semester. Given this extra time to figure out staffing, Mhlaba said he was unsure how many of the 40 courses would be covered by either full-time or adjunct professors. Still, other senior officials have been relying on pools of qualified adjuncts.
Bogusia Wojciechowska, dean of professional studies at Bunker Hill, said she began interviewing adjuncts during the summer, just in case the college faced record-breaking enrollment and needed to find qualified instructors on short notice.
Once a pool of contingency adjuncts was identified, the college paid to have them trained for some of the specialized courses they may have to cover this fall. For instance, Wojciechowska said her accounting department would be using new software to teach its 101 course this fall. As training any new instructors at the last-minute would not be ideal, she had all of her contingent adjuncts train alongside full-time instructors during the summer.
For Wojciechowska, this small bit of planning went a long way. Still, she acknowledged some concerns linger among her full-time faculty.
“If this is sustained growth we’re seeing, we hope we’ll be able to talk about hiring more full-time faculty,” Wojciechowska said.
To further remedy full-time faculty concerns and plan for future growth, Wojciechowska said she was already at work getting together a pool of qualified adjuncts for the spring semester, just in case estimates fall far short of the actual enrollment growth yet again.
Also, she said the college was going to keep track of all of those students who enroll in these last-minute sections. Given the poor track record of students who typically register late, she seemed to imply that that jury was still out on the college’s emergency addition of classes.
“We’re going to track students who habitually register late for classes to see what their retention and success is,” Wojciechowska said. “Late students usually have the worst chance of success anyway. Well, these classes and this registration are extra late. If we find these students in the late classes are doing poorly, we need to start wondering how or if we should be doing this.”