Changes at YU, Charted
As a fourth year student on campus, I remember the good old days of YU. During this bygone bucolic era, Golan was free on Mondays, Glueck elevator doors opened instantaneously, and the Belfer wind tunnel simply didn’t exist. Imagine that, FTOC.
At least, I think that’s what I remember; I’m not really sure now. After four years of intense schooling and thumpingly loud street music, it’s possible a neuron or two got fried. So how do we look back objectively if memory is not so reliable? How can we figure out what has changed over the years, particularly here at YU?
My preferred lens uses cold, hard, and objective data to analyze change. Rather than anecdotes and ponderous speculation, numbers and data reveal the changes experienced by the three undergraduate schools, Yeshiva College (YC), Stern College for Women (Stern), and Sy Syms School of Business (Syms).
Let’s begin our analysis of Yeshiva University by looking at enrollment, stretching back to Fall 2008.
Overall, the total male undergraduate population has decreased by 119 students since Fall 2008, though remains relatively consistent since Spring 2011. Since Fall 2011, however, Syms has seen an increase of 240 students, while YC has seen a decrease of over 200 students. This would seem to indicate that YC students are moving toward Syms, as the total undergraduate population remains stable.
The current undergraduate women student population has decreased by approximately 200 students from a high of 1116 in Fall 2008. This overall drop is mainly driven by a decrease in students at Stern, as the two lines (Stern and Undergrad Women Total) closely follow each other. Since Fall 2013, the Stern student population has decreased by 176 students, with the business school downtown failing to see the same high levels of growth as the uptown campus, thereby contributing to the overall decline in the current downtown student population.
As such, we’ve noted trends in enrollment. But are there any changes in the number of professors teaching and courses offered during the last few years?
The above graph displays the number of professors teaching in each undergraduate college. Between Spring 2012 and Spring 2017, the number of YC professors decreased by 59. Stern saw a slight decrease of 12 professors. Syms uptown, on the other hand, saw an increase of 10 professors. Taken together with enrollment trends, YC, with its decrease of 217 students since Fall 2011, also saw a decrease of nearly 60 professors. Syms uptown, on the other hand, with its increase of 241 students, only increased their faculty by 10 professors over that same time period.
Due to the lower number of professors and students in YC, we can similarly anticipate a decrease in the number of classes in YC.
Indeed, from Spring 2012 to Spring 2017, the YC class offerings decreased by 136 classes. Over that same period of time, Stern class offerings only decreased by 65. Syms uptown, on the other hand, increased their offerings by 23 classes. Putting it all together, YC, losing over 200 students, decreased the faculty by nearly 60 professors and 136 classes. Syms uptown, however, even though it experienced a growth of over 241 students, only added 10 professors and 23 classes.
What are the quantifiable effects of these changes? One interesting effect is its impact on average class size.
From Fall 2011 to Fall 2016, both YC and undergraduate women increased their average class size by fewer than two students. Syms uptown, on the other hand, increased the average class size by almost eight students. Therefore, to accommodate the growth in student population, Syms uptown added more chairs to their classrooms, without keeping pace in teacher hiring.
So to summarize:
1. Since Fall 2011, YC’s student population has decreased by 200, while Syms’ has increased by 240.
2. Since Spring 2012, YC has lost 59 professors and 136 courses. Syms has gained 10 professors and 23 classes.
3. Average class size in Syms has increased by eight, while YC’s has increased by two.
We now come to the end of the hard data section of this article, which simply pointed out trends. Going forward, we enter into the realm of murky, subjective speculation, where we are left with two questions: First, why this is happening? Second, what does it demonstrate about the university?
As to the first question, why this is happening, I have no idea. People get paid to figure these things out and fix them. There are multiple possible causes for these trends and there is no single way to determine the one cause (if there is such a cause), probably because it’s a mixture of various factors, and life is never simple like that.
Take the various decreases in YC. Is the decrease in the number of YC professors influencing the decrease in students? Or is it the other way around, with a declining student population in YC causing the change in the number of professors? Or, more likely, there is a third unquantifiable variable that is influencing both, such as bad press, bad weather, increase in Aliyah, and of course, Madoff.
Furthermore, what’s behind the increase in Syms students, as YC’s student population fell? Did YC become much more difficult, thereby pushing students to switch to Syms? Or could a resurgent stock market (which mimics the growth of Syms, accounting for a two-year shift) have pulled more YC kids into Syms? Will it continue to drive an increase in Syms students?
As such, it’s unclear what is driving these changes and we should be wary of anyone pointing to a single factor. More data may aid this analysis to see what began to change first; again, though, it’s never that simple.
As to the second question, what this data demonstrates about the university, two potential, completely opposing, narratives emerge. On the one hand, YC’s decrease in professors and courses may epitomize the downward trend of a sinking small liberal arts college. Yet on the other hand, the decrease in professors and courses may simply be a trimming of excess weight that was suffocating the university. After all, average class size only increased by two students. Neither narrative is evidently truer than the other, and as trite and cliché as it sounds, it’s simply a matter of perspective.
I invite my fellow students to join the hunt, to explain what in the world is going on here. I only ask that you back it up with the glacial, dispassionate, and austere beauty of data.
Notes on Methodology:
- Enrollment data was provided by the YU Office of Institutional Research.
- Data for courses, professors, and average class sizes were taken from MYYU. Any courses and professors teaching those courses that were worth less than but not including two credits were omitted from this analysis. Also omitted were directed study and research on campus credits.
- The professor analysis only takes into account the number of professors teaching, not how many courses are being taught.
- Because the MYYU course schedule lists Syms classes together with Stern classes on the downtown campus, only the overall trends were analyzed, not particular to each school. I leave it to future journalists with more knowledge of the undergraduate women’s course schedule to conduct a more thorough analysis.
- The course analysis counted cross-listed courses as one course, not two.
- One potential explanation posits that declining enrollment caused the loss in professors. However, the data doesn’t support this hypothesis, as YC enrollment remained steady from Spring 2011 to Fall 2012, while the number of YC professors already began to decrease, as shown in a previous article. (https://yucommentator.org/2015/09/rightsizing-and-downsizing-analyzing-trends-in-yeshiva-college-course-offerings/)