PILOT adjusts to high demand amid limited funds

By DIVA PAREKH | February 22, 2018

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This semester, the Peer-Led Team Learning (PILOT) program at Hopkins faces a shortage of funds. PILOT’s budget is allocated on a yearly basis, and the program used more than half of that budget during fall 2017, resulting in less funding for the spring semester.

Junior PILOT leader Cole Rosenberger said that leaders were not informed of the program’s funding issues until immediately after they were asked to give their schedule preferences in mid-January.

“We were told that there would be fewer sessions available because... we just had used up more than half of the yearly budget in the fall,” he said. “[PILOT Director Ariane Kelly] communicated to us that some people wouldn’t be able to have a session, but they would then have preference next fall.”

Junior PILOT leader Felipe Takaesu appreciated PILOT’s transparency in addressing these issues and said that Kelly had been reaching out to the administration to find a resolution.

“They were very transparent about it,” he said. “Ariane said she was doing her best by emailing the Dean and that she was trying to resolve the issue.”

Vice Dean of Undergraduate Education Joel Schildbach said that this semester, PILOT will be overspending the budget.

“What we have to do is we have to go back and reconfigure the budget. Right now, it’s very clear that we’re going to overspend the budget,” he said. “What both schools [Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and Whiting School of Engineering] are going to have to do is find resources and bring that in to make up for the deficit.”

Schildbach also addressed the reasons why PILOT used more than half of its budget during the fall semester, such as the University offering additional courses and sections.

“Many more sections than anticipated or that were built into the budget were offered in the fall. So there were a couple of courses that came on, sections that were assigned to these courses, and so that increased the cost,” he said. 

Senior PILOT leader Jess Kang addressed the difficulties the program has faced due to the reduced available funding.

“We used to provide snacks, and now we don’t,” Kang said. “We’ve seen PILOT grow so much just in the past few years that I don’t know how [Kelly] is even managing us all right now.”

Freshman Amy Lu, who took part in PILOT for Introduction to Chemistry I last semester, could not get into PILOT for Introduction to Chemistry II this semester.

“Not getting into PILOT will definitely make it harder in terms of studying for the exams,” Lu said. “I’m going to have to find a friend who’s in the PILOT class and go out of my way to find more problems.”

Schildbach addressed some of the factors that led to increased costs over the fall, which in turn left PILOT less available money in the budget for this semester.

Before fall 2017, the freshman-only Organic Chemistry section was the only one that offered extra support through PILOT. The program, however, chose to open PILOT sessions for the other two Organic Chemistry sections as well, which Schildbach identified as the single biggest jump in the number of sections that increased costs last semester.

Takaesu said that after the discontinuation of covered grades last semester, enrollment and interest in PILOT increased.

Rosenberger agreed, adding that freshmen without covered grades were motivated to attend PILOT sessions more consistently than in past years. To accommodate for the increased demand, PILOT hired more leaders and increased sections.

“There was a lot of interest in joining PILOT last semester, so we didn’t want to turn away any first-semester freshmen who were looking for help,” he said. “You try to incorporate as many of those people as possible. So PILOT went a little bit over half way of the budget.”

In the spring of 2016, 110 PILOT sessions were offered. This number increased to 161 during fall 2017, and some leaders took on multiple sessions to meet the increased need. The number of PILOT sessions decreased to 140 this semester. According to Rosenberger and Kang, some leaders from last fall were unable to teach this semester.

Freshman Jacqueline Tang discussed the need for Hopkins to address the decrease in PILOT sessions since last semester.

“It’s really important, especially at this type of school where academics are already so hard,” she said. 

Freshman Nicole Hada and Tang, who were able to get into PILOT this semester, both signed up within the first hour of registration opening on Jan. 29 because they anticipated that demand for the program would be high and wanted to make sure they got in.

Tang is part of the Ladybirds, a dance team that practices on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, which is why she hoped to be enrolled in PILOT sessions on other days. She was frustrated about the decrease in the number of PILOT sessions and the variety of times at which they were offered, which made it harder for her to fit them around her schedule.

Lu, who was unable to get into PILOT, wished that the registration date had been better communicated.

“I wanted to do PILOT this semester, but I didn’t know what day the sign-ups were,” she said. “They should have the classes that offer the PILOT sessions let students know exactly when sign-ups start.”

To reduce waitlists in PILOT sessions, the program institutes an attendance policy. If a student has two unexcused absences, they are removed from the session.

Hada believes that this rule should be more strongly enforced. She said her PILOT leader for Microeconomics told the group that he did not plan on being strict about the attendance policy and wouldn’t kick students out if they missed sessions more than twice.

“Within our own PILOT session, there’s only been max eight people attending, but I think it’s up to 12 people registered,” she said. 

Tang disagreed, saying that PILOT leaders should understand that students have other commitments and are very busy, which is why she believes students should not be penalized for missing more than two sessions as long as they are putting in the effort.

Rosenberger said that the waitlists are slowly shrinking, though the number of students in his Calculus III session this semester is larger than it has been in previous years.

“Students [may have] dropped out or not returned to sessions due to sessions being too crowded, and maybe they don’t feel like they’re getting the attention that they want or need,” he said. 

Professors for classes like Physics II have been receiving emails from Kelly asking them to recommend additional students to be PILOT leaders for new sessions to accommodate for this semester’s need.

Schildbach said that in the short term, PILOT will be trying to meet the need for this semester as much as possible. However, he empahsized problems associated with increasing the number of PILOT sessions are not entirely financial and are also affected by their ability to train enough PILOT leaders to lead new sessions.

Kang hopes that PILOT will be able to make up for the decrease in funds.

“Hopefully for the next year, since we do have all the data, we can work something out to either increase our funding or look for outside sources,” she said. 

Takaesu addressed the ways in which PILOT could have been better prepared for the first year without covered grades.

“I don’t blame them for not having raised the budget, because although they kind of predicted it, maybe they just wanted to test the waters to see what would have happened,” he said. “I’m sure next year it’ll be much better, but in hindsight a larger budget would have been nice for this semester.”

Schildbach emphasized the importance of exploring other ways to support students, particularly freshman, through their academic experience at Hopkins.

A suggestion he made was to increase support in graduate TA-run sections in courses for which PILOT is popular. Hada agreed that this was necessary, saying that the reason she signed up for PILOT was because she believes many Microeconomics sections are poorly run.

In the long term, Schildbach said that the budget does need to be reconsidered to increase yearly funding for PILOT.

“What we have to do is take a careful look at how things were organized in the past and try to figure out what the trends are and try to make sure that we actually have an appropriate budget in place,” he said. “We need to manage that better, and we will. We’ve heard loud and clear that students want to make sure that PILOT is funded.”

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