COLUMBIA — The MU College of Human Environmental Sciences hit its all-time high for enrollment this year with 1,240 undergraduate students.
Steven Jorgensen, the college's dean, attributes the steady increase in students to increased interest in the programs offered, but the additional students might not be all good news. He acknowledged the challenging situation the college is in right now.
“I’ve never been concerned with having too few. Right now, I’m concerned with having too many students and having the faculty to cover the classes,” said Jorgensen, who says he has seen the numbers increase each year by about 1 percent since he became dean in 2001.
All department chairs, such as Chris Hardin, have seen escalated interest.
“Our surging program is Nutrition & Fitness,” Hardin said. “Our freshman classes are experiencing phenomenal growth. We’ve added extra sections to accommodate capacity, and they are selling out.”
But handing out registration overrides and hiring more professors might not be as easy as they seem.
“With the hiring freeze, it has really limited our ability to fill positions and keep good faculty here. We are working hard to retain the quality we’ve become known for,” Jorgensen said..
Jorgensen said that the classes are being covered by part-time and adjunct faculty who lack the research capacity that a regular faculty member would have.
Current faculty members have also been asked to step up to the plate and take on more teaching time.
“The faculty have been pretty enthusiastic to help,” Hardin said. “They were happy that their courses were popular … I was impressed at how readily they took on extra sections. But I am worried about their workload.”
He added that increasing the number of students and sections in the freshman level was not a huge challenge but that the college does not have the ability to maintain this high a number of students throughout the four-year program.
“The problem is that we are creating interest in that freshman year, but we really don’t have the capacity down the pipeline to accommodate that many people sophomore, junior and senior year,” Hardin said.
Hardin said he hopes that the hiring freeze will only be temporary so that the college can expand the program to match its full potential.
“My faculty are feeling quite overworked in teaching sections, and considering the research expectations for this department, this cannot go on indefinitely,” Hardin said. “Hiring new faculty is the only way to reduce teaching loads. (Adjunct faculty) do a tremendous job, but students are best served when tenured faculty work in conjunction with (them), especially in sciences because showing students research is the highest form of education.”
He added that sharing research with students sets MU apart from other universities.
Other department chairs, such as Kitty Dickerson of textile and apparel management, agree with Hardin on the need to maintain the program's quality.
“I do believe that our students still feel they are being served,” Dickerson said. “We have a very high level of commitment to our students. We go beyond the basic quality to make our products excellent.”
Not only does the college not have enough faculty, but the facilities are becoming an issue as well.
“Frankly, the campus does not have the space for more large classes,” Hardin said. He added that the college has looked into making some courses online, which would free up space on campus and allow more students to participate.
With many goals and few resources, the college’s hands are tied for now.
“At this point, we are just trying to get by with what we got,” Jorgensen said.