Nearly 100 students, faculty and staff attended a town hall meeting Thursday to ask questions about and learn the reasons behind the most sweeping changes to Ramapo's class schedule in a decade, a switch that increases the number of times a class meets each week and eliminates the experiential learning component.
Provost Beth Barnett was joined by Chris Romano, the associate vice president for enrollment management, at the meeting to address some of the key reasons behind the changes to the Fall 2015 schedule. The session, moderated by Student Government Association President Lauren Fuhring, was called to answer some of the questions raised by students in nearly 140 emails received by Barnett earlier in the month.
“Accreditation matters,” Barnett said. “Ramapo College is accredited by Middle States Commission on Higher Education. They are the individuals who are charged with making certain that, in fact, the education that we are offering to our students is of higher quality. And, of course, that it meets all of the federal standards.”
One of the changes to the current schedule includes increased class sessions, which will require students to attend each class two or three times a week, as opposed to once or twice, for a total of 200 minutes per week.
The changes within the new schedule were overseen by faculty and administration of the College, who said the current schedule made it difficult to comply with federal and Middle States regulations that legitimize institutions of higher education.
“If anything were ever to happen to our accreditation, there would be some very swift and negative consequences,” added Barnett.
Every 10 years, Middle States comes to campus with about five people to perform an analysis of the College, examining programs and services within the context of the 14 standards outlined in the Commission’s Characteristics of Excellence in Higher Education and the College’s own mission, according to the Ramapo website.
If they are not happy with changes made by the College, Middle States can write letters of reprimand or can actually pull certain privileges from the College. One privilege Barnett mentioned is Ramapo’s ability to award financial aid from the federal government to students.
Middle States can also list Ramapo as a non-accredited college.
“A non-accredited college is not one you want to graduate from,” said Barnett. “It’s not going to get you into graduate school and, in some instances, you’re even going to have employers question what you really learned from a non-accredited college. So, needless to say, accreditation really matters for us.”
Barnett went on to discuss that in their last visit to the campus, Middle States was pleased the College was doing a good job with the type of experiences being offered to students, but they were concerned that Ramapo was awarding students four credits for classes that were only meeting 180 minutes a week, despite requiring students to complete the course enrichment component in each course.
“They asked us, ‘well, show us the evidence that every single class is requiring the CEC, and that every student is doing the CEC.’ And we had a little bit of trouble with that,” she said.
Individual faculty may still choose to incorporate a component of experiential learning in their classes. It would just have to be specifically outlined in the syllabus.
Barnett addressed students’ concerns about the three-day course meeting times for the fall semester, adding that the College needs to be able to prove that all courses are being conducted with rigor.
“As far as the federal government is concerned, rigor is measured in the amount of time your class meets,” she said. “According to the federal government, in order for a class to be considered rigorous, it really matters how often you’re actually sitting in a seat.”
Between 2005 and 2006, a new curriculum was implemented at the College that listed 4 credit courses for most classes, and since 3.6 credits of the 4 credits earned are spent in class, the remaining 0.4 credits (5 hours per semester) constituted the Course Enrichment Component.
Ramapo conducted a survey last semester and received responses that students were not completing the required CEC, as required by Middle States, to remain an accredited college.
The College ruled for a new schedule that would require every class to meet 200 minutes a week with the elimination of CEC.
Barnett assured students that there is about 100 years of research that addresses students learning better in classes where they can learn how to apply information as opposed to just memorizing.
“Research demonstrated that on average, particularly when you’re learning something for the first time, it’s easier if you learn it spaced out, in chunks,” said Barnett. “So for example, you come in on Monday, have a class, let the faculty member present some material and go away. Think about it, you might even read your textbook. Come back on Wednesday, talk about it, and then get some more information and go away and repeat it again. Come back on Thursday, and again pick up a little more information — this type of chunking, it works best, particularly in the beginning of learning.”
Faculty will be in charge of deciding what meeting times worked best for certain types of classes, and meeting spaces are being looked into now.
Barnett also talked on the number of classes and labs that are not being utilized on Wednesdays, expressing that the college saw a major spike of alcohol consumption on Tuesday nights because there are not many classes on Wednesdays.
“We looked at other factors that impact students, and one of the things that we see reported from students is what occurs on Tuesday nights if there’s no classes on Wednesday morning,” she said. “In our First Year Survey, for those students who completed AlcoholEdu, they reported the number of drinks per week. There’s a major spike for Ramapo on Tuesday nights, which is very distinctive to Ramapo.”
In comparison to 550 other colleges and universities across the country, most of the schools in competition with Ramapo, in terms of selectivity profiles that document the percentage of admitted students, have a combination of once a week, twice a week or three day a week courses.
There will still be opportunities for once a week classes and twice a week classes, and the changes do not mean that every class is going to meet three days a week.
“This is not that we are moving towards three-day-a-week classes and every single class is going to be three days a week, but it’s an opportunity to implement a combination schedule so students and faculty have the option of the number of times per week those courses are going to meet,” said Barnett. “So that’s an important component as we look at the other schools that we compare ourselves to.”
The town hall concluded with a question and answer session, where students inquired about a variety of topics, ranging from the ability of adjunct professors to teach certain courses that met more times a week and how commuter students would deal with the new policy.
In response to the latter, Barnett addressed the rumor that classes that meet once a week for three hours will be nonexistent in the fall, still allowing commuter and working students to consolidate the time that they are on campus.
During this question and answer session, tempers flared; students and professors who disagreed with the change often applauded for those they agreed with and verbalized their disagreement amongst themselves.
The schedule will be posted the first week of March, 30 days before registration begins, so students are able to see what their schedules will look like and so that the administration can solve any problems with the schedule in those 30 days. Registration begins on March 30.