At SD campuses, more classes see very large or very small student countsDuring the past academic year, South Dakota's six universities had more courses with very few students and more sections of courses with very large enrollments of 100-plus students.
By: Bob Mercer, The Daily Republic
PIERRE — An efficiency drive during the past two years at South Dakota’s public universities identified 37 academic programs and 109 specializations that will be weeded out because they had too few students getting diplomas. But there’s something else under way — two trends, actually.
During the academic year that was just completed, the six universities had more sections of courses with very few students than in the previous year. And yet, there were more sections of courses with very large enrollments of 100-plus students.
The numbers present a complicated picture of different trends at the South Dakota campuses.
The universities use the 7/10 rule first established by the Board of Regents two decades ago. For most course sections open to undergraduates, there must be at least 10 students. Graduate-level sections often must have at least seven students.
There were 7,494 course sections to which those standards applied during the 2010-2011 school year, and 245 fell below the minimum enrollments, according to a new report delivered to the state Board of Regents, whose members govern the universities.
The 245 were up from 205 for the previous 2009-2010 academic year and back near the 249 levels from the two years before that.
The big change came among undergraduate courses, where there were 170 that missed the threshold. The 170 was larger than in any of the five preceding years.
The regents allow each university to have exceptions up to 4 percent. The University of South Dakota at Vermillion came in lowest at 2.5 percent. Northern State University at Aberdeen was 2.6 percent, followed by Black Hills State University in 2.9 percent.
The three others were South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City was 3.1 percent, South Dakota State University in Brookings 3.9 percent and Dakota State University in Madison 3.98 percent.
By far, the largest number of low-enrollment course sections came in the engineering field during the past school year. Of the 47 sections, 25 were undergraduate courses, 17 were graduate level and five were open to undergrads and grad students alike.
Education courses ranked second-largest in small-enrollment sections with 27, including 21 for undergraduates only. Physical sciences were right behind with 26 total, including 21 specifically for undergraduates.
Biological and biomedical sciences had 22 low-enrollment sections, with 16 solely for undergraduates. Health professions and related clinical sciences had 20 smallenrollment sections, including 12 just for undergrads.
Twenty-one other disciplines comprise the remainder of the small-enrollment sections.
At the same time, the average section size throughout the universities increased from 27.2 to 27.8 for the past school year.
Of the 13,024 course sections of all types offered at the universities last school year, there were 118 that had more than 100 students. Fifty-nine had 101 to 150 students, while 59 had more than 150 students.
The 10 largest sections, all at SDSU, ranged between 331 and 384 students, according to the report. Regents President Kathryn Johnson of Hill City described as noteworthy the two trends of increasing average section size and increasing numbers of sections with 100-plus students.
The numbers of sections with more than 100 students has gradually climbed during recent years, from 84 in the 2005-2006 school year to 116, 113 and 118 respectively in the past three years.
The SDSU course sections with very large numbers of students included general biology I (374 students), human anatomy (366), environmental conservation (350), biology survey I (348), organic chemistry I (302), lifespan development (299), general microbiology (297), courtship and marriage (270), physiology (265), biology survey II (262), general biology II (260), organic chemistry (239) and chemistry survey (237).
Altogether, SDSU had 71 course sections with more than 100 students, while USD had 34, Mines and Black Hills State five each and Northern State three. Dakota State had none.
Students in the large-enrollment course sections frequently have smaller-enrollment laboratory supplements they must take.
Other large-enrollment sections typically are for introductory courses, and some are for observation-participation purposes, such as marching band.