Sonn: Scheduling classes and the numbers game


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The word “diversity” and the entire college industry were made for each other. No other duo can match the scathing passion of their relationship — not Tom Cruise and running in every movie, not Derrick Rose and Chicago, and not even Gollum and the One Ring.

There’s some deception to that diversity, however. No, I’m not talking about diversity in the racial/ethnic sense. Rather, I’m talking about the number and diversity of classes offered at schools such as the University of Iowa.

I was a psychology major for two years and switched to journalism in year three. At that point, the vast majority of my general-education requirements were completed, leaving me with the potentially frustrating (but also potentially enjoyable) process of having to take a bunch of mass-communication classes.

Naturally, I took a look at all the journalism classes Iowa had to offer and was pleased to see such an eclectic collection to pick from. You could say they were as eclectic as the word “eclectic.”

But wait, there’s a twist coming. When I went online to apply, only a tiny number of those classes were actually available. To make matters worse, many of the available classes took place during the same time on the same days, which meant it was impossible to efficiently take care of the remaining requirements needed for me to get my degree.

Call me crazy, but it’s almost like the school is deliberately making kids stay longer so they can sap even more money out of us with this greasy and misleading tactic.

I don’t want to be too cynical, however, because I understand the immense logistical challenge it must be to smoothly run and maintain a system that employs thousands and meets the demands of tens of thousands.

People like to say numbers never lie. Yet, when I look at what the university is doing, it seems the saying should really be “numbers never lie, but they don’t tell the whole story, either.”

The part that really confuses me is the misconstrued idea of making classes in the same program/department/major conflict with each other if a student wants to take more than one or two at the same time. In my eyes, that looks suspiciously like an effort to cut corners, making the administrative process easier.

Think about it. If classes with similar attributes are grouped together into the same time slots, it would make it a lot more efficient when it comes time to introduce new classes or siphon off outdated ones.

It’s just an assumption, but I prefer that theory to the truly malicious idea of higher-education institutions making a concerted effort to keep students longer all for the sake of increasing profits.

As a student, I can’t help but look at potential solutions from a biased perspective. The most obvious fix is to reorganize the entire schedule and make sure there’s more flexibility so students have a better chance of making a more efficient use of their time. Again, I have no idea what the logistics are behind the process, so maybe that’s not actually viable.

Something tells me the solution revolves around two other steamy relationships: student-faculty ratio and class size. To be more specific, those categories’ numbers can also be easily manipulated to make any given university look better. It’s all a game of arithmetic, which is why vague measures of quality like those are pretty worthless.

You can see how irrelevant they really are when you register for classes, which is something every student can relate to. It’s only irritating for students that have a diverse array of classes to complete, but it’s a genuine problem for those of us that just have to take a specific subject area.

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