The Agony of the Start of the Semester

So, this week we got another mass email to the department letting everyone know that due to low enrollment many sections of many courses will be cancelled and that everyone who teaches first year writing courses should be “concerned” about this. This is just another start to the semester like any other. At the small, public university I teach at, in a state that is bound and determined to rid itself of any sort of public higher education, this is typical. Everyone spends the middle of August and January wondering what they will be teaching, and if you are someone like me who does not have tenure, IF they will be teaching in the future.

This particular dip in enrollment comes from a new university policy that prevents students with a GPA of 1.5 from returning in the spring. This is troubling to me on many levels. It makes me ask questions- and ones that I feel are central to my approach as an educator. Is such a policy helping or hindering students? I can understand the position that these low GPA students are only going further into debt the longer they attend school. I accept that some people just aren’t ready for college. I know that the university needs to keep their fall to fall retention rates strong in light of state level scrutiny and performance based funding.

What troubles me is the fact that the students I teach struggle for many different reasons. Some of them have families that require them to work and contribute to the household. Some have parents with complex medical issues and they are working as that parent’s caretaker. Some of them find themselves in an unfamiliar and un-navigate-able space on campus, as no one they know has ever attended university. I am sure the students being excluded from returning to campus this spring are disproportionately from historically disenfranchised groups. I am sure there are many first generation students. I am willing to bet many of these students have mental or physical impairments that make attending class even more difficult. I wonder, should we be examining how to include such students? How do we work with someone who is struggling in class?

These questions are in my mind as I work on my online class, develop syllabi, and plan schedules for the semester. Who is being excluded from my classroom?

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