In a tweet last week, Tallahassee Community College announced its latest move in a strategic plan to enhance student success by reducing class sizes beginning this spring 2019 semester. In an official statement, the college said, “We believe that lowering our class sizes will encourage our students’ active participation in their learning and ultimately support their academics.”
With an enrollment of about 13,500 students, the current student-to-teacher ratio averages about 26:1. According to a report produced by TCC, data collected based on registration for the spring 2019 semester reflects that only seven classes have 40 or more students; a glaring contrast to the spring 2018 semester when 197 classes had enrollment caps above 40 students.
TCC Provost Feleccia Moore-Davis explains that the decision to shrink class sizes has been almost three years in the making.
“We wanted to decrease class sizes with the goal of increasing student engagement, student retention, success, as well as completion, because we wanted to create an environment where students have opportunities for deeper learning that typically occur in a smaller classroom. And quite frankly it correlates with our mission as a community college,” Moore-Davis said.
Harley Rigdin, a sophomore statistic major, has personally witnessed a dramatic change in the size of her classes since the initiative went into effect this January.
“My math and sciences were always packed wall to wall … my largest [class] was probably 40 some odd students. In the two-ish years I’ve been here the class sizes have kind of varied and right now my math class is very involved, the teacher is awesome,” Rigdin said.
She added, “I think it’s highly beneficial. Speaking from personal experience I like face-to-face and one-on-one. Even though sometimes it’s not necessary, it’s nice to have validation from a professional saying yes you're doing this right.”
While the benefits of more intimate classroom settings are evident among students – more individualized support, more interpersonal interaction, and fewer distractions in the classroom –the shift presents some challenges as well.
Connor Biggins, sophomore biology major explains the potential flaws in the recent adjustment. “In most situations reducing class sizes is a good way to go, but unless they’re going to make more classes where there are excess students, all they’re really doing is hurting themselves.”
With smaller classes, the understanding is that more course offerings will need to be made to accommodate the student body. While the new policy was crafted with student success in mind, a symptom of this change is a potential increase in instructor workloads.
TCC music professor Sarah Brown shared her perspective as a faculty member affected by the change. Brown’s formerly 50-student classes have been reduced to a 35-student cap since the implementation of the policy this spring.
“Decreased class sizes can be nice in that they focus the attention more on discussion and at the same time we’re making up for decreased class sizes by teaching so many more classes,” Brown said. “That can be a problem because then we get exhausted and we don’t have as much time, so the increase in the number of classes kind of undoes the positive of having smaller classes.”
According to Florida Statue, professors can teach up to five classes. Prior to this semester TCC professors taught an average of four. However, with the reduction of class sizes many professors will transition to teaching five to meet the demands of the student body.
“We got input from our faculty, our program chairs, and they gave us their recommendations on class sizes for each of the classes that we offer and we went from there. And so, it wasn’t a decision that was top down, we did solicit input from our campus community,” Provost Moore-Davis added.
Administration at TCC is careful to reiterate the sentiment that the transition is in constant review and will be adjusted as time goes on to meet the needs of both students and faculty.
Moore-Davis said, “We’re going to continue to assess [class sizes], for each discipline there is some variation in class size. This is our first semester of implementation so we’re going to talk to our students, talk to our faculty, and see where our next steps will be.”