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Phoenix Forward magazine

5 benefits of a small class size

Small college class size

When it comes to the number of students in a college class, does size make a difference?

Yes, say two experts, who note that the intimacy of a class with 15 to 20 students often means more individual attention and better communication between the instructor and students.

Here are five reasons a small class may benefit you:

Coursework can be adapted to fit the class.

Devin Andrews, an instructor in the University of Phoenix master’s in adult education program, knows firsthand how a small class can help teachers adjust curriculum according to their students’ needs.

“With 15 to 20 students in a class,” Andrews says, “I’m able to get to know my students right away, and then use that information to tailor my approach to the group so I don’t have to teach in a one-size-fits-all model.” If Andrews learns that her students are already proficient in one area, she can move on to another topic, she says.

No-shows are noticed.

There’s more incentive for students to pay attention and become engaged in a small class, because it will be obvious if they don’t, explains Andrews, who’s also been a corporate trainer.

“In a larger class with 50 to 100 people, if one student doesn’t show up for a few days, no one will even notice,” she says. But with a smaller class, she notes, “if someone goes missing for a few days from a class I teach, I can reach out to them to offer support or get some idea of what is going on, before it’s too late and they have fallen too far behind to catch up.”

Students receive more feedback.

Instructors read and grade papers in small classes. In large classes, less experienced teaching assistants often handle that work, explains Rick Bilodeau, vice president of strategy for Apollo Education Group, parent company of the University. “The student [in a smaller class] benefits from a more professional assessment of his or her work,” he says. “Faculty have more time to devote to reading and giving feedback.”

There’s more opportunity to learn from peers.

Students have a greater chance to get to know classmates and benefit from their comments on assignments and presentations, Andrews says.

In addition, whether online or in a classroom, each student’s contribution is acknowledged, particularly in discussion settings, and there is enough time to answer questions. “As students are responding to questions," she says, “they are able to learn from one another in the contributions that they make throughout the class.”


The transition to higher learning is easier.

“In many colleges, larger classes are offered to freshmen, but often it’s the first-year students who need the support of a smaller group,” Andrews says.

Smaller classes can be less intimidating, she adds, which “allows students to [more easily] share their experiences. The increased interaction can make the students feel like they have a helping hand. It gives them a safety net.”