Overenrollment in EECS courses puts strain on teaching assistants

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Meghnath Dey/Staff
Some campus teaching assistants in the electrical engineering and computer sciences, or EECS, and computer science department raise concerns that over-enrollment are putting an increased strain on TAs.

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Enrollment data across the past decade indicates student demand for electrical engineering and computer sciences, or EECS, and computer science, or CS, courses is increasing, leading some teaching assistants, or TAs, to advocate for increased departmental funding and decreased student enrollment.

Current student enrollment in EECS courses is up 7.2% and campuswide enrollment is up 6.6% since fall 2020, according to the campus College of Engineering.

Campus alumnus Murtaza Ali, who was a CS10 TA for four semesters, alleged the increase in CS majors coming from the College of Letters and Sciences, or L&S, coupled with a recent increase in cost of TAs hired on an eight-hour basis, has resulted in “more students than there are resources,” putting strain on TAs.

Ali noted he feels UC Berkeley TAs are compensated well for their work, even though they may be overworked at times.

“Although we are explicitly told not to overwork, it often ends up happening anyway because there are things to get done and not enough people to do them,” Ali said in an email. “Especially for Head TAs, the logistical responsibilities of running a course can take a huge amount of time. The only alternative would be to deny students the help they need, and that is something very few TAs in the department are willing to do.”

According to Ali, the student-to-faculty ratio in the EECS department is the highest of any department on campus and is roughly twice that of the ratio in the second-largest department. Ali alleged campus is not providing resources where they are needed in light of this ratio.

Students might have to wait hours in office hour queues to get a single question answered, especially during busier project weeks, Ali added. He also said students in other majors required to take CS courses might have difficulty getting into courses needed for graduation.

Assistant dean of marketing and communications at campus’s College of Engineering Sarah Yang said the college has been “carefully monitoring” the ability of students to graduate. Yang added data indicates EECS and CS students are able to take the courses they need to graduate on time, even if access to more popular upper division courses is limited.

According to Ali, potential solutions to the over-enrollment issue include the department “drastically” reducing enrollment numbers or potentially receiving a large amount of funding.

However, the EECS department can only control the size of the EECS major, noted Ali. It cannot control L&S majors, apart from making CS declaration guidelines stricter, a process Ali says would further a system that already negatively impacts students.

The CS department recently submitted an enrollment model for fall 2022 that proposed direct admission into the CS major as a freshman as the primary method of getting into the major, Ali added. The proposal, which would have greatly reduced the number of L&S CS majors, was rejected by campus, according to Ali.

“I used to blame the department, but I have come to realize that the department cannot give us money they do not have,” Ali said in an email. “The department desperately needs a source of funding for all its courses, and we can all only hope that the university is able to provide that as soon as possible.”

Sean O’Brien, who has been a TA for CS61A, CS189 and CS70, is also a United Automobile Workers Local 2865 steward, the union representing more than 19,000 academic student employees across the University of California system. O’Brien said the union is pushing for more funding for the EECS department.

O’Brien also echoed Ali’s concerns about making admittance to the CS major more difficult, noting raising the GPA cap would contribute to a “toxic” lower-division requirement and harm students without prior coding experience.

Like Ali, O’Brien also expressed support for increased departmental funding, a solution that would not negatively impact students.

“Financial support also helps attract and retain talented TAs who might otherwise pursue more lucrative private tutoring or industry work instead,” O’Brien said in an email. “It is also a drop in the bucket compared to tuition paid by students — looking at the value provided to students in courses, pay makes more sense.”

Yang added though the subject of finances can be complicated, the EECS and CS programs enable social mobility and provide “robust” career paths for graduates, supporting campus’s educational mission.

“The past decade has seen enormous growth in enrollment,” Yang said in an email. “The EECS department is actively engaged with the campus in discussions about how to best steward our resources so we can continue to sustainably fulfill our educational mission and serve our students in the decades to come.”

Yang added college-specific admissions targets for fall 2022 are still being determined.

Anishi Patel is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @anishipatel.

A previous version of this article incorrectly implied the EECS department intended to limit the major to those admitted to it as incoming freshmen. In fact, the proposal was intended to be applied to the computer science major.