Class sizes up by 13.5 per cent

Since the fall, there has been discussion among students, faculty and administration on the effects of noticeably fuller lecture halls, fewer course offerings and a general perception on campus that class sizes have increased.

Larger classes are perceived as detrimental to classroom experience. As a result, many questions have been raised on what factors have contributed to the situation, what the school’s perspective on it is and what students can expect in the future, especially since many students cite small classes and individual attention as part of Laurier’s reputation and a factor in their initial decision to come here.

Student-faculty ratio

Just prior to Reading Week, the school released the student-to-faculty ratio for the 2009-10 academic year, a value that seemed to indicate that contrary to perceptions on campus, the situation was improving as the ratio had dropped from last year.

Looking more closely at the methods used to calculate the ratios from year to year, the current ratio was calculated using an equation that factors the full-time equivalency of part-time contract academic staff differently. This was due to changes in a new collective agreement between faculty and administration that came into effect last February.

The Cord acquired an adjusted ratio this week that shows a slight increase in the student-faculty ratio, from 21.4 to 21.8 students to each faculty member over last year.

The ratio for every faculty excluding the graduate social work program and the Brantford campus increased; Brantford’s ratio dropped significantly due to new hiring.

Average class sizes

Another change that occurred with the new collective agreement was a reduction in the required course load faculty members must teach.

“Previously a faculty member was required to teach five courses over the course of the full year, but they get relief from teaching duties depending on their research and involvement with committees,” said Kevin Crowley, director of news and editorial services at Laurier.

“It dropped from five [courses] to four [courses] and there’s a cost to doing that.”

In a meeting two weeks ago between The Cord and representatives from university administration, vice-president of finance Jim Butler explained the impact this reduced courseload may have on average class sizes.

“We were happy to go in [the research] direction, realizing of course that research does put a strain on their ability to teach,” said Butler.

“A one-course drop like that is a 20 per cent reduction, and you would expect class sizes to go up 20 per cent, but they went up by 13.5 per cent,” he continued.

“Our attempts to mitigate that, I think, have been partially successful because you didn’t get a full 20 per cent impact, you got less than that.”

The average class size among undergraduate faculties went from 56.2 students per class last year to 63.8 students this year, excluding music courses because of one-on-one instruction in that faculty.

The increase of 13.5 per cent is significantly higher than the five per cent increase suggested by administration earlier in the year.

“I remember arguing that it might be five per cent in a couple of places, but my God I’m sure it’s more than that overall,” noted faculty association president Judy Bates.

“I’ll bet you could find places like social work where it wouldn’t have gone up by that much, but arts, science and SBE must have gone up enormously.”

For example, in a large first-year lecture of even 200 students, a 13.5 per cent increase in size amounts to 27 extra people.

Even in an upper year course of 50 or less, there may be seven or more students than last year.

This of course, takes into considering that the 13.5 per cent value is an average, so there may be many more or less students in a given class or faculty than usual.

“If you’re noticing larger class sizes, that would be true,” said Butler. “The hike [is] because of the teaching load change and there’s also an increased enrolment over what we had budgeted for in the previous year.”

He also mentioned the importance of government funding and the problems presented by insufficient support from the province, problems that become apparent in the classroom.

Even a 13.5 per cent increase in average class size, Bates concluded, “Makes a huge difference to the way you can teach or at least the way you can have assignments and evaluate students.”

Butler noted that there is some hope in the form of increased money from the province saying that the funding “would enable us to hire additional faculty and address some of the class-size issues.”

“You can’t do that if the government’s not going to give you the money for the growth.”