Minnesota faculty: How budget cuts are hitting students

lecture hall

After putting out the call to faculty asking for insights on how budget cuts have hit their campuses, several have already reported on how they’re affecting students.

In a nutshell: Larger classes, less support for students — and possibly lower four-year graduation rates to come.

Gary Reineccius, head of the University of Minnesota’s department of Food Science and Nutrition, starts off:

Classes tend to be larger. There are fewer human resources to mentor students. While we might be able to deliver knowledge in a more cost-effective way though online courses (though I do not know that this is true), delivering knowledge is one small part of providing an education. When we talk to employers about the skills their new hires need, they talk about communication, leadership, volunteering, ability to work effectively in groups, (etc.) … Many of these skills come from having a devoted role model in the classroom or guiding an extracurricular activity. The loss of these mentors will be felt in the quality of education we deliver.

Michael Ruth, professor of graphic communication at Minnesota State University – Moorhead, said that recently hired faculty often aren’t able to give students the best support:

We have hired fixed-term positions, which means there are no expectations that person has a job after that year of service. … The person in the position needs to constantly be looking for a job. When that happens there is no long-term connection between faculty job and place.

This is hard on the students to constantly have a change in advisor and faculty, a lack of consistency. It has been proven that student success is pegged to the relationship they have with faculty and advisor: The stronger the ties, the more successful the student.

Timely graduation is also impacted when faculty are (laid off).

Timely graduation? Darrell Downs, chairman of Winona State University’s political science and public administration department, explains:

The immediate effect is that students will not graduate as soon as they had originally planned simply because there are fewer courses available. Fewer available courses affects all students. Students nearing graduation face fewer specialized upper-division courses (and courses with associated laboratory expenses) because these courses are naturally more costly to deliver. With pressure to maximize enrollment, these upper division courses are offered less frequently, and graduation times are extended. For students at the start of their university experience, there will be fewer courses available and larger class sizes for those remaining courses.

Jim Grabowska, chairman of Minnesota State Universiy – Mankato’s department of modern languages wrote that his university is already grappling with the challenge above:

Programs have scrambled to find ways to offer courses to students, from opening sections to large numbers, to offering fewer elective credits to redesigning majors and minors, trying to conserve academic integrity, but also trying to make it possible for students to finish in a timely manner.

Note: Comments have been edited for length and clarity.