The Seaver Faculty Association recently discussed what the growth of Seaver College means to Pepperdine students and faculty. Just as the Student Government Association represents and raises awareness for the student body, the SFA acts on behalf of the faculty at Seaver College.
At the SFA’s most recent meeting Jan. 29, they addressed “two initiatives from the administration: the Growing Seaver proposal and a proposal to institute a merit component in faculty pay,” President of the SFA President Andrew Yuengert wrote in an email.
The “Growing Seaver” proposal began approximately a year ago, when President Andrew K. Benton and Dean of Seaver College Rick Marrs discussed whether or not Seaver had “the potential … to have more students than it currently has,” Marrs said.
The association collaborated with the Office of Institutional Effectiveness to collect data for both the growth and faculty pay proposals, using it to evaluate and understand what it will take for Seaver to be “better.”
“Getting better has always been defined throughout as improving academically and enriching the mission of the school,” Marrs said.
The information gathered by the SFA and administration explored student enrollment, quality of the incoming class, student performance and student-faculty ratio. The SFA also conducted a survey to gauge faculty support of Seaver’s growth and offered both positive and negative aspects of it. All of the following data was presented at the January SFA meeting.
When analyzing the data, the presentation created by Yuengert showed a “shockingly large increase” in Seaver applications over the past five years. In the 2012-13 school year, 10,486 applications were received, and 3,896 applicants were accepted. The total graduate and undergraduate fall enrollment has also steadily increased, from 3,196 in 2008 to 3,367 in 2012. The SFA noted that the administration’s confidence in Seaver is reflected in the growing numbers.
“There’s been an awareness for the past few years that Seaver’s applicant pool has been growing, “Marrs said. “Is there more demand out there for Seaver than we’re currently meeting?”
With the increase in applications, a concern of the SFA was the number of accepted applicants who ultimately chose to attend Pepperdine. This percentage of students peaked in 2002 at 43.1 percent, but has since fallen to 23.1 percent in 2012.
The data now reflects a growing gap between applicants accepted and those who have decided to attend.
In 2012, 37.2 percent of applications received were accepted, but only 23.1 percent committed to Seaver. Based on the statistics, the SFA concluded that the college is growing, yet the decreasing number of student committing to Seaver raised questions on how unusual it is when compared to other universities.
“Ultimately where we would go … a typical incoming class would be 916 [students],” Marrs said.
Quality of Incoming Class
The SFA also assessed key aspects of the quality of students. Alongside enrollment, the SFA gauged the incoming classes by looking at the average GPA, SAT and ACT scores. SAT scores have not changed much over the past six years, while the average ACT composite scores have slightly increased.
The average GPA remained above 3.60 until 2012, when it dropped to 3.54. It rose to 3.59 in 2013.
Other categories the SFA used to evaluate Seaver are the retention and graduation rates. Retention rates have improved since 2006, with last year’s rate at 91.7 percent. This raised the question of how much the increasing rate is costing Seaver, as the incoming class size numbers continue to rise. The SFA concluded that the funds supporting the students have been accounted for in the student services budget investments.
Graduation rates have shown a slight improvement over the past five years as well.
Student-Faculty Ratios and Class Sizes
A determining factor for many students when deciding on a university is class size and accessibility to professors. Seaver has maintained an average student-faculty ratio of 13:1 over the past five years despite the influx of undergraduates. Though classrooms such as Elkins appear to be filled with as many students as possible, the number of class sections with more than 100 students has not greatly increased. In fact, the growth rate of the popular sections in both the 40 to 49 and 50 to 99 range have slowed over time.
To maintain the steady student-faculty ratio, the SFA also determined exactly how many instructional faculty are on the tenure track. As a reflection of the increasing incoming class size, the number of faculty on the track has increased from 135 in 2008 to 154 in 2012.
Faculty Survey Results
The SFA conducted a survey of how this growth is affecting the faculty. They recorded a number of pros and cons for the “Growing Seaver” initiative, as well as certain quality measures that need to be maintained throughout the growth.
The SFA asked 69 faculty members to respond to the survey from various academic divisions. The faculty was asked how strongly they agree or disagree with the statement, “I support the ‘Growing Seaver’ initiative.” They could choose strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree or strongly disagree.
In their selection, 24.6 percent of respondents chose “neither agree nor disagree,” 23.2 percent chose “agree,” followed closely by 20.3 percent selecting “strongly disagree.” “Disagree” and “strongly agree” had the same score of 15.9 percent.
According to Yuengert, the neutrality of the faculty on “Growing Seaver” is due to three factors. “First, the proposal is not yet very specific; it is only a preliminary sketch at this point,” Yuengert said. He said faculty have also been affected differently by the growth. Lastly, Yuengert said the faculty is divided on whether or not growth is a good idea.
Despite the dominant “neither agree nor disagree” view, positive and negative aspects to Seaver growth were determined by the SFA. Advantages of growth would be a larger profile among Christian schools, more tenure-track faculty, and the opportunity to support and sustain small programs. The disadvantages to growing Seaver include doubts about student quality, space and resources. The SFA also addressed how growth may harm the student-centered environment, one of Pepperdine’s key strengths. This could cause a decline in the student population, a decrease in the amount of resources acquired from the university and increase the overall strain experienced from a decade of growth.
The SFA realized certain quality measures that should be considered if growth is to continue. Some factors have already been discussed, such as incoming class scores, student-faculty ratio, class sizes and graduation rates. Other factors include success after graduation, faith, diversity, alumni support and increased faculty research and salaries.
The SFA discussed the need for faculty salary increases and showed the slow growth of Seaver salaries from 2002 to 2011. The SFA used 18 research universities and colleges for comparison. They have aimed to address this lag since 2011 and will continue to monitor and advocate for salary increases.
Expressing the opinions of the faculty is one of the fundamental objectives of the SFA, and their committee makes these views and concerns available to the administration of Seaver College. When deciding what it means for Seaver to be better, the SFA plays a large role in assessing and collaborating on its future.
Follow Katrina Kirsch on Twitter: @Katrina_Kirsch
As published in the Feb. 13 issue of the Pepperdine Graphic.