Classroom space allocation and the inherent “space squeeze” that goes along with it is an issue that every growing college must address at some point. At Bellevue College, deciding which courses get which classrooms is a complicated process ultimately decided by computer software designed to efficiently assign the allotted spaces available, taking into account the needs of each course. One might liken this process to the bagging clerk at your local market fitting as many groceries into one bag as possible.
There are spaces around campus that are dedicated classroom spaces, meaning those spaces are allotted for specific courses by specific departments quarter after quarter and see little to no change in course assignment. However, the spaces that are currently operational but are not dedicated receive differing course assignments every quarter. According to Vice President of Instruction Tom Nielsen, the current software takes into account several factors when designating space for the coming quarter. Every classroom space is assessed and classified by the size of the room, number of chairs, desks or tables; whether it is a lab classroom or not, what kind of electronics it has available, such as a smart boards or projectors and if there are windows. Every course is then assessed under the same guidelines, thus determining which spaces are best suited for which courses and vice versa. These findings, combined with forecasts for course demand gathered from previous quarters at BC, allow for space on campus to finally be assigned to any given mixture of courses.
Aside from the quarterly shifts of available classroom space, the recent expansion of BC’s infrastructure involving the addition of the new $40 million health sciences Building, or T Building, means there will be several previously dedicated classroom spaces becoming available to other courses. However, despite the opening of these new spaces, there still will not be enough space on campus for every course to be taught in an optimal setting. Thus this current process of space assignment begs the question as to who or what ultimately decides which departments and which courses get precedent in the allocation of space on campus.
While some courses follow a pretty regular demand pattern, others tend to fluctuate as courses and degree programs are considered as more fashionable by students. In the late 1990s into early 2000s digital animation and web design was a focus of expansion and inclusion in BC’s available course content. Today, with the considerable influx of students nationwide pursuing a career in the healthcare profession, the two year Nursing and Radiology degree programs at BC have become incredibly popular. But as these programs have become popular and have started seeking space on campus to expand with the student demand, students pursuing a career in another field may be losing out as a result.
This effect can be most clearly felt and seen within the art department at BC. According to tenured teaching faculty and department head Dale Lindman, Bellevue College focuses on degrees that are considered “fashionable” and its lack of action towards the needs of other departments is quickly and effectively undermining the competitive edge that BC can provide to its students pursuing a career in the arts.
“I think the people who it really hurts is not people who are really good, but the people that are middle to low,” said Lindman. “The quality of instruction here I’d put up against anyone in the community college system. Where we fall down is other facilities… [and] the people that could be good [aren’t] going to have access to help make them good.”
Lindman also notes that while BC is erecting new buildings for the more currently in-demand programs on campus, the D building, which facilitates most of the classroom space for the art courses at BC, has yet to be remodeled despite plans to do so being formed over a decade ago. These plans were scrapped by the state due to a mis-measurement in the building plans and have yet to be revisited.
Photography instructor Chad White shares the same frustration, feeling his students’ success is being undermined by a lack of support for the art department. White points to his digital photography course as an example of this struggle. For the past two years, White’s digital photography course has had a waitlist of 10 or more students whenever the course has been offered. Adding to White’s frustration is the funding he received last year via Student Technology fund for a computer lab for students. While White received $32,712.03 for 26 new iMac computers, he has yet to secure a space to put them. In the funding proposal, White explains that having a digital computer lab would “enable the photography area to better manage the future of a photography curriculum at Bellevue College in response to current job trends and academic shifts.”
“Adigital photography lab would at minimum, double the course amount within the photography area. It would allow for such courses as color photography to rejoin the curriculum and allow Photography II and III to run more than once an academic year increasing to every quarter. The photography area currently has an average over 160 students per quarter. It is expected that with an additional lab this would double,” said White.
Furthermore, White also notes that as of now, his digital photography course can only be offered across campus from the D building in N building. “A new lab would physically bring the digital photography lab within the art department building, exhibiting its cohesiveness and desire for an organized structure,” said White.
As a college keen on providing students with a diverse array of competitive programs, BC’s efforts to promote and forward its most in-demand programs may be hurting other fields of focus in the process. Realizing this and refocusing some of its efforts towards these programs in need may help give students in other fields the ability to secure the competitive edge needed to secure employment and success after BC.