Small clubs still vital, regardless of budget and demographics

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Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Bill Bultman sent an email to faculty and staff Feb. 27 about a Student Government funding change for UW-Fox Valley’s course CTA 104, Applied Journalism, which could damage the stability of the program. This entailed cutting Applied Journalism to one credit and allowing it to be cancelled in the event of low enrollment for fall 2016, as in any other course.

Based on a longstanding agreement between The Fox Journal and the Curriculum Committee, UW-Fox Valley has run the course in three one-credit sections independent of enrollment figures. This meant that even though a total of 114 people could theoretically enroll, if only eight people enrolled instead, the class would not be canceled, and the college would sustain a loss.

“We’ve always just accepted it as a given that we could continue it, because we unquestionably supported the newspaper. We’ve run a one-credit class as if it were a three-credit class. That was judged appropriate to the amount of out-of-class work that advising a newspaper requires,” Bultman said in the email.

Unsurprisingly, this has been very expensive for the college to finance.

“[The agreement] doomed us to never coming close to breaking even on the budget end of curriculum. There’ve been good years and bad years, but when you [apply] the one-third factor, on average we’ve effectively run the class with about four students per semester,” Bultman said.

In the advent of budget cut implementation, the Curriculum Committee sent a request to change the funding model, with the proposal of running one section of the course at one credit and having Student Government pay the adviser’s stipend. The latter proposal was rejected, but a one-credit course will be available for enrollment in the fall.

Considering the low rates of enrollment in the course, this was a justifiable decision that eliminated the possibility of losses. Moreover, Applied Journalism, on average, consisted of four students per semester, or 12 before applying the one-third factor. Fall 2015 had a record-low total of five students by the end of the semester, or 1.7 students after applying the one-third factor. Considering Applied Journalism had a .04 percent attendance rate between enrollment numbers and available seats last semester, it isn’t in the least bit surprising to see support cut after a decade of low enrollment.

That said, it may be easy to classify the cuts to the journalism program as a byproduct of the budget cuts (this is somewhat the case, as before the cuts were a concern, UW-Fox was more than willing to take losses on behalf of the student newspaper), but the low enrollment is evidence of more relevant problems that transcend budget cuts.

One answer to this extends from a national epidemic—enrollment declines. As of 2014, 1157 full-time equivalent (FTE) students were enrolled at UW-Fox Valley, according to the UW Colleges website. By the 2015–2016 school year, however, enrollment dropped to approximately 1049, representing a decrease of nearly 10 percent. As a result, many courses not directly related to UW-Fox’s associate degree requirements may be canceled.

According to UW-Fox available timetable information, this semester, 302 courses were initially offered. Of these, only 77 classes reached full enrollment, and among these, 60 percent were direct course requirements or remedial courses that fulfilled English, mathematics and natural/laboratory science associate degree requirements.

As for the 225 remaining classes with open slots, 74 had more than 15 open slots. In most cases, these were over half empty and many were canceled. Courses at UW-Fox Valley that typically had low enrollment were upper 200-level or 300-level courses, specific program-related courses and cocurriculars.

These numbers indicate that in order to take additional or more advanced coursework in one’s primary area of study at UW-Fox Valley, a sufficient number of other students have to study the same program and enroll during the same semester for the course not to be canceled. In many cases, this is not possible for some students, due to scheduling conflicts and, of course, enrollment shortages.

Theoretically, with the right enrollment opportunities, two-year colleges such as UW-Fox Valley are places for freshmen and sophomores to cultivate leadership and vocational opportunities that otherwise are only available to juniors and seniors at most four-year colleges. At which point, when these prepared transfer students move to their university of choice, they tend to end up with more experience than their non-transferred peers. However, with a smaller student population, this has become much more difficult at UW-Fox.

The lack of enrollment in non-core classes is not the only shortage, however. It also occurs within UW-Fox’s student organizations. While CRU, among UW-Fox’s largest organizations, has had slightly over 100 students over the past academic year, other student organizations have struggled with participation.

Notably, elections for next year’s Student Government, one of UW-Fox Valley’s most important organizations, have been composed of single-partisan elections for president and treasurer, and no candidate whatsoever for communications director due to lack of student involvement.

Moreover, UW-Fox’s Business Club has only 20 members, where only 10 of whom actively participate. According to Business Club Adviser Jill Halverson, the number of regular participants represent less than ten percent of declared business majors on campus.

“I hope that UW-Fox Business club will continue to grow,” Halverson said. “The future of all our campus organizations depends on students getting involved. Although some students are hesitant to get involved because they already have a lot to balance between their coursework, jobs and other obligations, the old saying ‘many hands make light work’ holds true in this situation. By all working together, we achieve more.”

Without these opportunities, and with most non-core classes at risk of being canceled due to low enrollment, UW-Fox Valley is at risk of becoming a college whose sole purpose is to offer general education courses at a lower price, and little else. Between unavoidable low enrollment and the college no longer being able to offer courses like Applied Journalism at a loss due to budget cuts, there’s ultimately nothing that can be done about it until population rates allow for higher enrollment numbers.

Regardless, even though many campus organizations are small, that doesn’t negate their importance. The Fox Journal, for example, is a small publication. It was always a small publication, and it will always be a small publication, but for the past several decades, The Fox Journal has delivered campus and administrative news to students and this public. This year, The Fox Journal is the only student publication that has consistently reported on budget cuts in the northeast region of the UW Colleges. The Fox Journal’s mission is to inform the public, however small-scale its internal operations may be.

The Fox Journal has plans to continue into, at least, the next academic year. If enrollment is sufficient, Applied Journalism will continue in the current format. If not, The Fox Journal might become a noncredit student organization, might transition into an advertiser-based funding model, or might close its doors.

Correction: Previously, the enrollment numbers of students between 2014 and 2015 were misrepresented. Official enrollment numbers between fall 2014 and 2015 are from 1701 to 1560, or 1157 to 1049 in full-time equivalent terms. This represents an 8–9 percent decrease.

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