Approximately 22 percent of classes offered at the University have over 50 people enrolled in them, according to U.S. News & World Report. Though the University boasts a 22:1 student-faculty ratio, average class size is around 44 students. Large class sizes are a serious detriment to both professors and college students as they reduce engagement, attendance and quality of learning. Far fewer classes should be held in auditoriums where professors’ voices and students’ questions are lost in the masses.
In smaller class settings, professors are free to interact with students and vice versa. In an auditorium-size class, there is little incentive, let alone time, to open the floor for questions or constructive discussion. Because of the sheer size of some University classes, lecture-style teaching is the only viable option despite its reputation for being an inadequate means of instruction. A key aspect of effective learning is lost when students have no choice but to sit blankly staring at PowerPoint slides while unable to actively connect with professors or course materials.
Rather than engaging and receiving feedback directly from the professor, a student’s fate is often left in the hands of overworked and overwhelmed teaching assistants who are burdened with everything from grading to replying to endless floods of student emails. Because they often have little say when it comes to the size of their classes, professors of large classes are forced to sacrifice their quality of instruction for quantity of students. Such conditions can lead to low professor retention rates and a reduction in student attendance.
“There’s just a point at which teachers can’t really get to know the individual students, can’t teach the materials,” said Jeremy Finn, professor of education at the State University of New York at Buffalo, to host Madeleine Brand on NPR's All Things Considered. “Students split off into splinter groups and withdraw from the classroom interactions.”
A 1985 study of over 1,200 teachers and 12,000 students found that students in small classes outperformed students in larger classes by a significant margin. The study, known as Project STAR or Student Teacher Achievement Ratio, inspired other states like California and Wisconsin to perform similar class size-reduction experiments. These benefits have been best observed at the elementary and high school levels. Studies show a correlation between smaller class sizes and test scores, dropout rates and graduation rates. These positive effects are even more significant among underprivileged students and minority groups who are often more likely to drop out.
The sad yet unsurprising truth is larger classes provide little incentive for students to attend class other than maintaining required attendance points. Students are less likely to ask questions or seek help when they lack rapport with the professor. Professors are less likely to get to know their students or work with them on a higher academic level when they have hundreds of students. It is a lose-lose situation for all involved.
It is in universities’ best interest to make money and while hiring professors can be expensive, it is a necessary change in order to improve the quality of higher education. Students and parents are paying University tuition for access to valuable and enriching courses to prepare them for their future career, not for overflowing classes where numbers trump quality of education.
Hannah Kleinpeter is a 20-year-old mass communication junior from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.