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University of Virginia UVA Arts & Sciences Default

Guidance for Limiting the Number of Low-Enrollment Courses

Message from Dean Ian Baucom


October 20, 2017
Data below updated Aug 19, 2019

Dear A&S Faculty:

As part of our ongoing efforts to manage the College’s limited resources effectively, we are implementing a new approach to more effectively manage enrollments.

Recently, we began sharing more A&S course enrollment data with department chairs, organized to give them more see-through on what courses are enrolling well, and which ones are not.

Also, after consulting with the chairs, we are sharing new guidance for departments outlining multiple ways to handle low enrollment courses. Our goal is to ensure in the most transparent way possible that all A&S faculty understand the decisions that may need to be made when reassigning teaching responsibilities (or canceling classes). 

It is important to emphasize that we are not planning to cancel all small courses.  Some classes need to be small by design.  However, we also need to focus on ensuring that course offerings meet core teaching needs and attract students in sufficient numbers to justify the considerable investment of faculty time and school resources. 


Over the last several terms, the Dean’s Office has been communicating informally with departments about the need to grow enrollments and to adjust course schedules when the undergraduate courses offered enroll small numbers of students. Starting with the Spring 2018 term, the Dean’s Office will conduct this process in a more formal and deliberate way.

“Small classes” will be defined as those with fewer than 8 students.

There are compelling reasons to offer some courses with the expectation of enrolling fewer than 8 students (e.g. pedagogical reasons, or the honors program for which the course provides a capstone enrolling just six students). 

However, we can only afford to offer a limited number of courses this small, therefore the Dean’s Office is asking departments to provide their Associate Dean with a list of the small courses they need to offer, with the pedagogical rationale articulated. Over the next term, the Dean’s Office will confirm with departments the maximum number of small courses the College will be able to support in a given department. All courses that enroll less than eight students, with no pedagogical rationale provided, will be canceled.  Where there is pedagogical rationale (but the number of these classes exceeds the department’s allowance), we will work with the department to bring the number of such classes within the allowance, canceling classes if necessary.

The chart below shows the schedule that will be used to identify courses that are at risk of under-enrolling (and our plan for consultation). We encourage department chairs and faculty to respond proactively when a course appears likely to fall short of the enrollment threshold and no pedagogical rationale for offering the course with less than eight seats is clearly stated. The chair may, for example, instruct the faculty member to offer another course in the coming term that has the potential to enroll larger numbers of students. By notifying chairs as early as November 15, 2017, that specific Spring 2018 courses are in danger of under-enrolling, we hope to assist them in adjusting course offerings while there is enough lead time for the faculty member to prepare a new course and for students to find the new offering and enroll.

We are also providing chairs with an opportunity to share with us the rationale for why a limited number of courses in your department need to be small for pedagogical reasons.  Between November 15, 2017, and December 8, 2017, we will be soliciting your proposals for rationales and maximums and will provide feedback regarding the number of small courses we can afford to support in each department.

When a course taught by a part-time Lecturer under-enrolls, we will cancel the course, with an adjustment in pay (our offer letters include this possibility). Summer Session and January Term classes are routinely canceled when enrollment falls short of thresholds.  If it becomes necessary to cancel a course for a salaried faculty member in the event enrollment falls short of the threshold, we will be asking the faculty member to offer an extra course during the next term.


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