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Small Class Sizes

Keeping it small: Why class size matters

At Saint Mary's University, there is a student-to-teacher ratio of 12:1. One of the reasons students choose Saint Mary's is because most class sizes are under 20, resulting in better opportunities to know professors and to participate in class discussions.

Why does it matter if an 18-year-old college freshman is in an introductory course with hundreds of other students – or in a seminar with a dozen?

Lower student-teacher ratios and lower class sizes provide better academic environments for teachers and students.

The National Survey of Student Engagement asks undergraduates about their educational experiences. NSSE identifies student-faculty interaction as an important predictor of success in college. The overall educational experience is directly impacted by a student’s ability to discuss class assignments and career plans with instructors, receive prompt feedback, and have opportunities to work on research projects with faculty.

Saint Mary's University shows strength in those areas of the NSSE survey.

Another indicator that student-faculty interaction is important comes from a review of college ranking systems. For example, U.S. News and World Report ranks colleges and universities based on several measures of quality, including student-faculty ratio and class size. A lower student-faculty ratio and lower class size score a higher quality rating.

The value of small undergraduate classes to alumni was investigated by the Minnesota Private College Research Foundation. Findings from Comparing Results 2004: Alumni Perspectives on College (PDF) highlight the importance of small class size, with 90% of graduates indicating that they benefited from small classes.

Clearly student-faculty ratios and class size matter to students. It’s easier to learn from others in a small class, and easier for students to help others learn in small group settings with professors. It’s like having a community in the classroom.