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The Vector

NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

Interim Dean Talks HCAD Enrollment and Retention 

Photo from NJIT

Students in NJIT’s Hillier College of Architecture and Design, or HCAD, expressed concerns about low faculty retention and high student attrition rates. Some have noticed that their class sizes are getting smaller, while others acknowledged that some instructors did not get any information regarding the courses they are teaching before the beginning of the semester. The college’s interim dean and architecture professor, Dr. Gabrielle Esperdy, addressed these topics to clarify any confusion amongst students.  

“We can plan as much as we can in May, June, and even July, but because of the university’s rolling admissions and the way transfers are processed, we will often find out two weeks before school starts that we have a certain number of students being added to the program,” Esperdy said, “meaning that we’re going to need to hire an additional studio faculty.” 

She explained that once there are beyond 15 additional students, there aren’t enough hours in studio time for critics to give those students the feedback that they need. Thus, it is essential to maintain smaller sections, which is difficult to plan if student numbers get updated so close to the start of the semester. 

Esperdy also highlighted the difference in the type of instruction in HCAD versus other colleges at NJIT. “I was lecturing before the pandemic, and it was easy for me to transition to doing my lectures remotely,” she mentioned. “But HCAD is hands-on — studio-based education is a practice.” One of the reasons students get into architecture and design is that they want to be a part of the studio culture.  

However, not all students aim for this experience; there are four-year — Bachelor of Science in architecture — as well as five-year — Bachelor of Architecture — programs available based on the students’ interests. The four-year program provides more freedom to study varied subjects, such as ones based on history and theory, rather than the studio-focused five-year program that directly leads the student through professional requirements. The latter allows a faster route for those who are set to become architects upon graduation.  

Esperdy mentioned that there is always a high attrition rate, or percentage that measures the number of students who leave a program before completing it, from first to third years; the spring cohorts are always smaller than the fall ones. Students decide on a program when they apply to universities at, most commonly, 18 years old — they don’t always have a strong idea of how well they will like a program until they have completed around two years. 

“We call second- and third-years in architecture the core, because when they get to their third years, expectations increase significantly in terms of the scale of what they’re doing in studio,” she explained. “It’s often a moment when a lot of students say, ‘I think I’m going to either switch into the Bachelor of Science degree or come back to architecture another time.’” 

These are some aspects that affect how many students continue in the programs that they originally registered for, which in turn affects cohort sizes and the studio spaces necessary to make sure there is enough physical space for students. “We’ve been looking at ways that we can work with Facilities Services to rethink the spaces that we already have, so we can use them as efficiently as possible,” Esperdy said. 

She acknowledged the hurdles of making sure there’s transparency between students and administration on matters like these. Esperdy stated that It’s difficult sometimes because “students are only seeing the other side of things. They’re not fully aware of how much planning went into all of the changes that were rolled out, which is always a challenge.” 

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