SF State struggles to match demand for popular majors

Super seniors aren’t the cool kids on campus, they’re just students who got stuck here, couldn’t get the classes they needed and didn’t graduate on time. An impacted major isn’t a constipated army officer; it’s a tool college departments use to control enrollment when a major attracts more students than the resources available.

It’s no secret that these ongoing issues plague our school. But why are some majors more desirable than others? A look at SF State’s more popular majors, many of which are now seeking impaction, reveals a student body more focused on career goals.

“Students are now recognizing the majors that lead directly to jobs are wiser choices than the other majors that don’t,” Jeff Snipes said. Snipes is department chair for criminal justice studies, one of the nine majors proposing impaction for Fall 2014.

Students realize the job potential for criminal justice majors. In the last decade, the major has doubled in size, from 300 declared majors in 2002, to 734 for 2011.

“I’m trying to develop a plan, a life plan, and if I get a CJ (criminal justice) degree, in four years I can have a good paying job,” Justine Berkeley said, adding that she wanted to be a social worker and get a psychology degree, but the path seemed too arduous. Plus, she added, she could always return to night school and continue in academia. She is now working toward a job in probation.

Probation and corrections has a 10-year growth rate of 18 percent, slightly higher than the average 14 percent, and a median pay of $47,200, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Social workers fare better chances of getting a job, with a 25 percent growth rate, but the job pays less, with median income of $42, 480.

The job prospects for students who graduate with a degree in criminal justice has grown beyond the standard careers in law enforcement, corrections or probation, to include careers in public health, social work and city and state policy, said Snipes.

Criminal justice saw an increase in students when psychology became impacted in 2010, Snipes said.

“The growth is so huge and it’s going to go up and up,” said Snipes, referring to the criminal justice department. “We needed some level of control — enrollment management is a must.”

To help ease the burdens caused by limited resources, crammed classrooms and overworked faculty, and to push students through the pipeline, departments seek to impact certain majors and control enrollment. SF State currently has 10 impacted majors. Nine more majors are proposed for impaction beginning in Fall 2014.

When a major becomes impacted, other related majors often absorb the excess students. Another major related to criminal justice and psychology is sociology, which is also proposing impaction for next year.

Nursing is another career-focused major, one that’s been impacted here since 1985. Every California State University with a nursing program is impacted. Freshman used to be able to be undeclared with an interest in nursing, but now that too is proposed for impaction.

Other healthcare related majors such as biology, chemistry and kinesiology are proposing impaction too.

A career in the healthcare industry is becoming more and more desirable among students, based on the growth of related majors and an increase in available jobs in the industry.

The most recent labor data shows that the health industry is continuing to grow, adding 32,000 jobs nationwide in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Certainly the faculty in different departments are tuned into what’s going on out in the job market and advising their students about career opportunities and internships,” Jo Volkert, vice president for student affairs and enrollment management, said. “But impaction is really not directly tied to market demand.”

While the school doesn’t produce a work force for any particular industry, Volkert does admit that there is some link between student demand and the greater workforce.

“The growth in criminal justice is because people are enamored with ‘CSI’ — it looks like the profession they’d like to have,” Volkert said. “So, in some sense there is a direct tie with what’s going on in the job market.”

Longtime career counselor Mariko Hingston advises students to follow their passions, but if a student’s passion leads to an impacted major or career that is oversaturated at the moment, they should find another path.

“No longer can students take the straight arrow path from A to Z,” said Hingston. She suggests students navigate their educational trajectory like a sailboat, tacking to the left, tacking to the right, and then getting back on course.

Criminal justice major Justine Berkeley jokes that she’s been forced to “major” in registration, adding that her priority is after everyone else’s. She can’t get the classes she wants, and the classes she does get “are too large for open forums,” something she said is essential to the learning process. No longer does she choose classes that may interest her, just classes that are open and will move her toward graduation.

“You do what you got to do, and then get the hell out of here,” she said, not joking.

Michael Guadumez, a 22-year-old biology major with a minor in kinesiology, is working on his fifth year here. Even with two years of summer school under his belt, he won’t graduate until Spring 2014.

It’s the same old story: He couldn’t get his prerequisites classes, biology and chemistry. Instead, he had to take their equivalent at City College of San Francisco.

His major, biology with an interest in physiology, has grown from 143 declared majors in 2002 to 520 in 2011, according to SF State enrollment.

“Biology is so restricted,” Guadumez said. “The space is so limited.”

With vastly different interests, the two students share the same goal: find a job that helps people and pays well. But the journey is not without bumps.

“It’s been hard, but promising, the medical field has lots of jobs,” Guadumez said. “I strive to do something in that field — something to benefit mankind.”

>>See Impaction leads students to alternate majors
>>See Students face impaction; SF State solicits feedback
>>See Impaction yields competition, offers some success

Written by