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Raising the Cap

As of the 2016 fall semester, classroom student capacity was increased from twenty-five to thirty-five for general education courses throughout the four schools at SUNY Old Westbury and their respective departments. Handed down by the administration led by the Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Patrick O’Sullivan, has been met with protest from both faculty members and students. This fluctuation of class sizes is directly affected by SUNY budget cuts, whether the college meets its enrollment targets and more importantly, the feedback from the students.

But given the limited budget and resources SUNY Old Westbury currently possesses, it was a ruling that had to be made in order to accommodate student needs while maximizing efficiency and productivity, according to the administration.

SUNY Old Westbury is among one of the smaller comprehensive colleges whose main selling point has always been the low 18:1 student-teacher ratio with an average of twenty-two students per class. This in turn promotes a positive rapport among students and their professors making the education experience more rewarding.

On the other hand, low course capacity creates a scheduling setback among students trying to graduate on time. For students that need to add one more class in order to graduate but with courses capped at twenty five, the upturn in capacity would keep those students from having to return for an additional semester and prevent their graduation from being  delayed.

Associate Professor Andrew Mattson, chair of the American Studies Department, said,“Most faculty agree with students that a smaller class size leads to a better quality of interaction between faculty and students. So how do you strike the balance between the competing needs to have bigger classes for efficiency, productivity and schedule flexibility versus smaller class sizes for quality of education?”

This dilemma has been addressed by Dr. O’Sullivan with a compromise. Starting next semester, there will be a process in which the different departments will meet with the deans of their respective schools to try to work out a reasonable balance between quality and quantity. With this agreement, some courses could be reduced from  thirty five as early as next semester. At the moment, lower level courses, including  subjects like mathematics, history, and the sciences, are experiencing the most crowded classrooms.