Class Size Matters: Smaller Means Broader Horizons

By Patrick Murray

Picture yourself back on your first day as an undergraduate student. It shouldn’t be overly difficult to remember how excited and apprehensive you were. When you stepped through the door of your first class here at Holy Family, you were probably expecting a room packed to the brim with students feeling the same emotions you were, with nervous but determined looks on faces that surveyed their surroundings with a hawk’s precision. In many cases, that may have been what it was like. For others, however, you may have entered a room with nine or ten people. This may have made your anxiety skyrocket with thoughts like, “Oh, great, now I’m really going to have to pay attention and participate at all times,” or, “My options for group projects are pretty limited, now.” Those thoughts were completely rational, especially since you were probably used to at least marginally larger classes in high school. However, what you didn’t realize yet is that this type of setting and population is the most ideal for your education.

The percentage may be small, but students will still sometimes tell you that they prefer the auditorium setting of a college class, the likes of which can be seen at universities like Temple and Penn State. According to a 2015 study entitled “Student Preferences for Small and Large Class Sizes” conducted by Laura B. Koenig et al, only about four percent of 167 college students questioned preferred larger class sizes.  Being surrounded by a couple hundred other students makes them feel more comfortable and secure, and they may feel as if they are part of something bigger than themselves. Professors often use microphones in order to be heard, and many times it can feel more like an assembly than a class. This works for some students because they typically only have to listen to a lecture rather than participate and ask questions. According to the study, these students prefer larger classes because they are under the assumption that there is less responsibility involved (meaning they can skip classes and assignments with less repercussions), and that the larger volume will provide better opportunities to meet new people.

Although at least some of those arguments and assertions may be sound, smaller classes like the ones at Holy Family are significantly more tailored to an environment conducive to one’s learning. Although our general education courses can contain up to thirty students (which is still a very small number compared to larger schools), classes that are concentrated on a specific major, electives, and even the Honors courses can have as few as ten or less students registered. To put it into a bit of perspective, Temple’s student-to-faculty ratio is 15:1. Roughly 38% of their classes contain less than twenty students, and about 9% of classes contain fifty students or more. Compare that to Holy Family – a 13:1 ratio paired with a 67% chance of classes containing less than twenty students, as well as zero classes with fifty or more students, according to US News and World Report.

Larger general education courses are actually valuable, as they prepare the students with basic knowledge to study more advanced material in a more condensed

Source: Badger Herald

environment. This allows more discussions to be held, questions to be asked and addressed, and different forms of learning to be implemented other than only lecture and examination. Students who attend smaller classes are receiving adequate practice for real-world working environments, even if they are not aware of it. On top of better social interaction, group work and discussion in small groups of two to ten people is often important in professional projects and settings. Therefore, working on that aspect of preparing for the real world while attending university can be an essential skill-building exercise, and should be implemented much more here at schools other than Holy Family.

Doctor Johansen’s Honors course on American History from 1820 to 1920 is a phenomenal demonstration of what smaller class size can do for students. She lectures on certain days, yes, but they are supplemented by extensive discussions of textbook readings, primary sources, and even trips taken as a class, such as the industrial area of Tacony. These discussions are done with students sitting in a circle and expressing their honest views regarding the questions asked. Further, cumulative presentations are done quickly and efficiently and are discussed at length after they are completed.

Students may feel a bit uneasy about being part of a smaller class in which they are much more likely to have to participate. However, they must realize that the benefits can outweigh those of lecture courses with larger capacities. In smaller classes, like the ones here, students’ questions can be addressed in a much timelier manner, their learning experience is not restricted to simply sitting and listening to someone speak, and their voices can truly be heard – they are more than just a number in a large room. With registration for next semester’s classes ongoing, students should heavily consider their options, and should at least think about joining classes with ten or less of their peers in them. If you know anyone who is considering attending this university, make sure that small class size is one of the advantages you inform them about. Word of mouth is a powerful extension of Holy Family.

Patrick Murray is a third-year English major who serves as co-Editor in Chief of Folio and loves to write short fiction in his free time.