Bigger classes, fewer sections possible result of reduced state funding for higher education

University of Minnesota students
Students walk between classes on the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus. Budget cuts may lead to fewer sections of classes available on campus.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

Crowded classrooms and long wait lists for popular college courses aren't a new problem. But there's growing concern it's going to be a bigger problem in the future because of cuts in state aid to Minnesota's public colleges.

It is problem that some at the university predicted months ago. University officials warned the reduced state aid would result in larger class sizes and a reduced number of course sections available.

"We've had to move to larger classes. We have had to have some restrictions in class availability," said Eric Kaler, U of M president. "But the faculty and staff at the U are working night and day to provide a quality experience for these young people."

During the first week of classes, 19-year old University of Minnesota sophomore Matt Forstie finds the courses he needs are closed when he pulls up his school's registration website on his laptop.

"For instance, Principles of Economics right now is almost completely full, there might be a few seats open. Same thing with classes like Calculus 1, Calculus 2 &mdash completely full.

But Forstie, who's also a member of the university's student government, has heard from several students who say registration this year is more difficult.

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"It's harder to find classes. It's difficult to find times and more difficult to schedule," Forstie said.

As Gov Mark Dayton and lawmakers wrestled over a budget this summer, the specter of large cuts in the U of M's state money hung in the air.

In the end, the budget compromise reduced state aid by 10 percent less than what was given in the previous two years to the U of M and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, offering a little more than a billion dollars over the next two years. University officials say it's too early to determine that budget cuts have increased class sizes or decreased class sections. That information won't be available until mid-September, after the university takes a final head count of the students on campus.

Bob McMaster, dean of undergraduate education, theorizes that when those numbers are available, any decrease in course sections will be isolated.

"After we look at the data, I will bet we will find certain pockets where we will see some decrease in course sections because of decrease faculty and budgetary stress."

McMaster said trouble with crowded classes is to be expected in the first week of a new school year, and that students will be settled into their classrooms by next week.

In some areas, the university is increasing popular class sections, such as in economics, psychology, and chemistry, McMaster said. These are courses freshmen need to get into right away.

"We try to make sure that we're prioritizing the curriculum so that the critical sources that students are going to have to have for graduation are on the table first," he said.

Budget cuts and how they affect course offerings also concerns administrators at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

Bemidji State University and Northwest Community College had funding cut by 10 percent in the latest state budget.

The college subsequently reduced its workforce by a corresponding 10 percent, said Bill Maki, the college's vice president of finance and administration.

That's tightened up the number of courses available, making it harder for students to get into some classes.

"For the most part they are getting the courses that they need," Maki said. "However, they may not be getting them exactly when they want them."