Courses and Students in Global Studies

Unlike most of my posts, I’ve written this piece mainly for department chairs and program directors in International and Global Studies. This post is unlikely to be of much interest to anyone else, as it doesn’t deal with issues that most of us are passionate about in the field, but rather the pragmatics of running a program. I’ve been a department chair for three terms, and a dean for four years. As at many state-based institutions, our university is moving towards performance based budgeting, which means that there is intense attention to student credit hours (SCH), which is sometimes called the “coin of the realm.” For this reason, I’ve invested a lot of time in thinking about enrollment trends and how to draw more students into classes in International and Global Studies. Here are some thoughts on this issue, which I believe apply to our program, although I don’t know if these observations will be true at other institutions.

  1. Students prefer thematic courses to regionally based courses. I don’t believe that this was true to the same extent fifteen, or perhaps even ten, years ago. Still, by offering a thematic courses (Global Espionage) you are drawing from a much broader pool of possible students than a class on a particular world region, no matter how interesting that course may be.
  2. Cross-listing is very helpful, while also a constant political headache.
  3. In our department any course with “Politics” in the title will struggle. We recently did a focus group with students in INTL to ask them about our curriculum. I was surprised to learn that they want more courses that were NOT about politics, which they believed received too much coverage. In spring my department offered a cross-listed course about a particular country in the Middle East, which had the word “Politics” in the title. Only a single student signed up. Our spring enrollment was the best that we’ve ever had (up over 13% from last year), and this country is currently in the news. I don’t know that individual teaching styles are driving this trend. I’m curious if this is taking place in other programs?
  4. A “global problems” approach turns off students. Courses should focus as much on solutions as crises.
  5. Online courses tend to enroll better when they are taught by tenure-line faculty than by adjuncts. Sometimes I’ve heard some colleagues state that online classes taught by adjuncts are undermining their ability to attract students. I teach entirely online, and I am currently overseeing the creation of an online track in my own department. What’s interesting, however, is that students only like to enroll in online courses with faculty they know. This makes sense. Many of them are somewhat nervous about online classes. They feel much more confident taking an online class if they’ve already had a course with that Professor, or when that instructor has a reputation amongst their peers. Online courses taught by unknown adjuncts may struggle to attract students.
  6. Hybrid courses are at least as popular as online courses. They also serve to introduce students to learning online. Freshman and juniors tend to prefer face to face (F2F) classes, but they will take a hybrid class. Juniors and seniors are much more likely to take fully online classes, although they still like hybrids and F2F classes. Most students like to mix and match classes. In other words, they will take a face to face class or hybrid class to see other students, but will then choose an online class so that they can arrange their work hours.
  7. Students will say that they want night classes, but they are less likely to sign up for night classes. Surveys of student preferences are misleading. Some instructors can draw in these slots. But they would draw much more during the day.
  8. If you are a chair, no matter what a faculty member tells you, don’t schedule a class outside the course grid.
  9. Students prefer to take core courses, rather than classes based upon interest. For this reason, important and timely courses don’t necessarily attract students. This fall we offered two courses, one on China and the other on North America, which I had to cancel because they enrolled between three and four students each. 10 years ago I believe that both of these courses would have filled. I think, however, that as tuition costs have increased, students have prioritized those classes essential to graduation.
  10. In a recent survey we asked students how they made decisions about their courses. One of the key factors that they looked at was the course description. In many cases, we haven’t updated these course descriptions in many years, and don’t bother including this text in flyers. But course descriptions matter.
  11. Nothing does as much to guarantee enrollment as a popular and skilled instructor, who can ignore most of these trends or rules.

Do you want some tools to teach a class in International or Global Studies? I’ve posted some resources here.

Shawn Smallman, 2017

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