Many universities publicize the small class sizes as a benefit for student’s learning. Wanting to understand more about what small class sizes looked in practice , I talked with a Creative Marbles Consultancy client and a current freshman at the University of San Diego (USD), Jarett. He graciously agreed to let me summarize his experience for our blog.
Small classes at USD means not only a limited number of students per class–on average 15-20; Jarett’s professors are able to develop personal connections with each student. Also, USD did not cancel classes under 15 students; Jarett’s French class consisted of 7 students and the professor, creating an immersion-like environment in French conversation each class period. He also mentioned that summer school classes would not be cancelled if 6 or more students enrolled. Even in “lecture style” classes, where the professor did the majority of the talking, Jarett found as one of 20 students, the professor frequently called him by name to participate. Although surprised, the accountability of the professor knowing him helped Jarett engage more in the class. Throughout high school, Jarett found classrooms where he could debate issues and think on his feet were effective learning environments. USD professors fulfilled Jarett’s expectations for challenging discussion oriented classes, which had been a reason for choosing USD over other campuses, including the University of California and another Jesuit private university.
Jarett’s experience shows that for out-going students who thrive in learning environments where they can ask questions when needed or offer an opinion for consideration and debate, smaller classes can fit their needs. At the same time, for students who may be more intimidated to speak up, the smaller number of students may create a comfortable atmosphere to practice sharing their thoughts. In both cases, being singled out by name may motivate students to prepare for class discussions and do their homework. Before choosing a college for application or to enroll, ask questions about how a typical small classroom functions and learning occurs given the number of students per class. Then, like Jarett, students can make a confident decision for their future.