E.27: The Risks and Rewards of a Large-Scale DataProject: Results from the WPA Census
Reviewed by Natalie A. Johnson, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL
Chair: Rita Malenczyk, Eastern Connecticut State University, Willimantic, CT
Speakers: Jennifer Wells, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, “A WPA Census-Driven Formula For Writing Center Health”
Brandon Fralix, Bloomfield College, NJ, “First-Year Writing at Minority Serving Institutions”
Dara Regaignon, New York University, NY, “The Course(s) that Define(s) a Field”
Jill Gladstein, Swarthmore College, Aston, PA, “The Leadership Configurations of Today’s Writing Programs and Centers”
The organization of writing programs was explored in this session using the writing program administrator (WPA) Census. Multiple representatives from different universities spoke about their own institutions in relation to the resulting data from the WPA Census.
Jill Gladstein started the session off with an outline of key data points obtained from the census. There were 704 responses from four-year institutions and slightly more than 200 responses from the two-year institutions. (See last year’s session review of the WPA Census for more details on the data.)
Dara Regaignon started her portion of the session with the question, “What is first-year composition (FYC)?” She points out that the answer to this question is not simple; even though it may seem like a basic question, the answer is not consistent across different campuses. She said one reason that administration and colleagues may be skeptical of the mission and purpose of these required FYC courses is this inconsistency in defining FYC at different institutions. She also brings up the public versus private institutional concerns in relation to fulltime or parttime and tenure or nontenure faculty who teach FYC. Regaignon indicates that students in FYC at private institutions are being taught by fulltime, tenured instructors 35% of the time, compared to 12% of the time at public institutions. With fewer fulltime, tenured instructors, it becomes increasingly difficult to fix inconsistencies between FYC courses.
Brandon Fralix presented a different perspective in his analysis involving Bloomfield College, which is considered a minority-serving institution. He spoke about the composition of faculty in regards to this institution as well as other similar institutions, such as Hispanic-serving Institutions (HSI) and Predominantly Black Institutions (PBI). It was found in this census that PBIs had the most fulltime faculty members compared to any other institutions in the census; however, the trade-off for this benefit, as Fralix described, was the higher cap on FYC courses, which was an average of 24 students, a higher overall average than the other institutions in the census.
Jill Gladstein spoke about overall concerns, questions, and important points regarding the data obtained from the census. One result that Gladstein discussed was that 55% of respondents marked that they have a WPA at their institution. However, many who marked “other” instead of a WPA, wrote in their response as indicating they have a WPA. This is a problem Gladstein discusses as being an issue with understanding terminology, titles, and or structure of the writing program.
In Jennifer Wells’ portion of the session she presented questions such as, how are we sustainable?, and are we moving in the right direction? These are some of the questions she uses in her analysis of her own writing center at Florida State University. She also discusses how the data obtained from a census such as this one can be used to measure performance in each individual institution, and also as a means of providing feedback and ensuring the best mission and goals of that institution have been established. This use of data applies not only to the writing centers which Wells discussed, but also to any writing studies program. Data such as this can be used to support changes or improvements in the program regarding administrative leadership as well.