As we all deal with the exceptional stress of an unprecedented budget situation, replete with canceled classes and turned away students, I wanted to take the opportunity to clear up some misconceptions around just exactly how we get paid by the state.

Before I do, please be clear. I in no way think that the more money a class makes, the “better” it is, anymore than I think that a class with 60 is inherently better than a class with 15. What matters is the quality of the education each student gets, not the quantity of students in the class. However, the discussion around productivity ratios (which the Administration uses to determine the profitability of classes) drives many decisions on which classes to run or cancel, especially in this tense climate. Since professors teaching classes account for the overwhelming majority of money the State gives us, we should try to understand how the college gets paid for classes. You may be shocked to know that not all classes of 20 earn the school the same money, and some classes of 18 earn the college as much money as other classes of 36!

How can this be?

It’s all about the FTES. a term widely used and widely misunderstood. That is too bad, because it, NOT # of students per class, is how the college gets paid for the courses we run.

What is an FTES?

For credit classes, an FTES (Full-Time Equivalent Student) is one or more students taking a total of 525 WSCH (Weekly Student Contact Hours) per semester. A weekly student contact hour is an hour where a student is being instructed by a professor. The state makes NO distinction as to whether it is a lecture, lab or activity hour. The state pays the same amount regardless. This is crucial. To the state, a Weekly Student Contact Hour is a Weekly Student Contact Hour, period.

The school is paid approximately $4564.83 per FTES, which translates to about $8.69 per credit weekly student contact hour. (We can do the same exercise for non-credit and co-op classes, but as the large majority of what we offer is compensated at a credit hour, we will use that figure.)

What does this mean to you? Well, it should cause people to be looking carefully at how many hours are associated with a class when we are deciding what to run or cancel. Simply put, a class with more hours earns the college more money per student.

Let’s do apples and apples so take an existing class strictly on the dollars: I have changed the class names to a department we don’t offer so as to not ruffle any feathers, but I am using 2 existing LMC classes as the template.

Sanskrit 1 is a 54 hours/semester lecture class. Sanskrit 1 has 20 students enrolled.

Sanskrit 2 is a: 108 hours/semester lab class with 19 students enrolled.

More students means more money, right?

Clearly, Sanskrit 1 is more profitable. It should run and Sanskrit 2, regrettably, must be canceled, right, since it couldn’t “even” get to 20?

Actually, wrong. Remember our figure of $8.69/wsch? The ONLY way the college gets paid for credit WSCH? Let’s do the math:

For Sanskrit 1, the state pays the college $9385.20 (1080 WSCH X 8.69) or 2.05 FTES.

For Sanskrit 2, the state pays the college $17,831.88 (2052 WSCH X 8.69). or 3.91 FTES.

So yes, by canceling the class with 19, the college loses over $8447 more than if it had canceled the class with 20!

Again, let me be clear! I don’t think either class should be canceled, and many many more things go into making a class valuable than the amount of revenue it generates, which, whenever possible, should be out of the mix in discussing academics. However, as we are in desperate financial times and decisions on course-cutting are being made as we speak, we need to understand the money. Perhaps, as we engage in collaborative consultations with our partners in management and work together to create a spring schedule that serves our students best, we can be well-informed as to the facts and figures of how the college is paid for classes, rather than reflexively assuming that canceling the class with less students is always the best fiscal choice.

Btw, the model pretty much holds for part-time and AC hourly pay. The hourly average for the district is $76, so let’s use that figure, since it is the one district uses in these discussions. At that hourly rate, the college pays $4104 for Sanskrit 1 and $8108 for Sanskrit 2. After hourly salary is paid, the college nets app. $4500 MORE for the “lower-enrolled” class.

It is pretty easy to do this for your own courses as you discuss class cancellations with management. Simply multiply the number of students in the class by the number of hours the class meets in the semester, then multiply that number by $8.69 and you will know how much money each class your department runs is bringing the college.

Please note that all of my figures were run past the district’s Chief Financial Officer, Kindred Murillo. She agrees with my math and I appreciate her taking the time to look it over.

We at the UF have been meeting with managers at every level this past month to advocate for the most collaborative process possible in responding to the fiscal crunch, and the Administration at LMC has committed to working in dialog with faculty to determine the least painful places to cut when cuts are needed. So if your dean asks your department to make cuts that don’t make sense to you, please speak up and voice your concerns. And if there is support or information that I or the UF can provide, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Michael Zilber, UF Vice President for LMC

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