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Class Size Struggle

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The percentage of classes with 100 or more students at Florida universities rose slightly from 4.7% in 2005 to 5.4% in 2009. [Photo: University of Florida/ Kristin Nichols]

Class size is on the rise at Florida's universities, but not drastically. In 2005, for example, 4.7% of all state university classes had 100 or more students enrolled. In 2009, the percentage increased to 5.4%. Moderately large classes — those with between 50 and 99 students — are also increasing, from 10.6% systemwide in 2005 to 11.9% in 2009. Meanwhile, the percentage of classes with fewer than 30 students declined, from 59.6% in 2005 to 56.5% in 2009.

"Class sizes have increased over the last several years, probably not to the degree people think," says Frank Brogan, chancellor of the state's university system. "It's not as bad as some people would lead you to believe."

Another way to look at class-size numbers is to evaluate student-teacher ratios. Presumably, the fewer students per teacher, the better. According to the 2011 rankings of the world's best colleges compiled by U.S. News & World Report:

  • The University of Florida's student-teacher ratio is 20:1.
  • The ratio at the Florida A&M University is 18:1.
  • Florida State University's is 22:1
  • University of South Florida's is 27:1
  • The University of Central Florida's is 31:1.

In comparison, the ratio at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is 14:1, according to the magazine. "If there's one metric that I think speaks to the quality and depth of investment in student education, it's the student-teacher metric, and Florida is not doing well across the board," says Ralph Wilcox, USF's provost.

» Next page: Charts showing which Florida universities have the biggest -- and the smallest -- classes.

Biggest Classes
Top Five State Universities (fall 2009)
Percentage of classes with 100 or more students
1. University of Florida 10.3%
2. University of Central Florida 7.2
3. Florida State University 6.0
4. Florida Atlantic University 5.9
5. University of North Florida 5.2
Source: State University System 2012 annual report

"We continue to want to be better and better and better, and a big part of delivering the best education you can is to have a small class. With budget cuts, we are having to necessarily grow the size of the classrooms. In a perfect world, we would love to have the funding to go out and hire more faculty and also bring more stars to the state."

— Jane Adams, vice president of university relations, University of Florida

Smallest Classes
Top Five State Universities (fall 2009)
Percentage of classes with 30 or fewer students
1. New College 86.0%
2. Florida State University 63.5
3. Florida Atlantic University 62.4
4. University of West Florida 60.1
5. University of Florida 59.5
Source: State University System 2012 annual report

"Our program is built around frequent intellectual exchange between students and faculty."
— Charlene Callahan, provost and vice president for academic affairs, New College

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Class Size Facts

  • Online and video-streamed classes are helping to boost class-size numbers. At UF, the state university with the highest percentage of big classes, lectures from "Principles of Microeconomics" can be viewed via computer — the lecture hall would be crowded otherwise, since the class typically enrolls 1,500.
  • During the spring 2011 term, New College had 45 classes with 10 students or fewer, including two classes that enrolled a single student: "Advanced Toxicology" and "Advanced Toxicology Lab." Biology professor Elzie McCord was the teacher, and Wei Gu was the student. "Having a single student is advantageous for both the student and professor," McCord says. "We can arrange meeting times differently than class times. We can explore mutual interests and topics. Also, Wei had total hands-on with the instrumentation and was able to do things such as starting up and shutting down the instruments. He could also explore environmental contaminants in greater details than in a full class. It was a good experience for us both."
  • In fall 2000, 37 classes at FSU had more than 201 students. That amounted to less than 1% of all classes. In fall 2009, there were 63 classes at FSU with 201 or more students enrolled — 1.47% of all classes. Florida Gulf Coast University also has seen an increase in large classes during the last few years: In fall 2005, just .3% of its classes had 100 students or more. In fall 2009, 1.7% of its classes surpassed 100 students.
  • FAMU and USF actually saw declines in classes of 100 or more students from 2005 to 2009. FAMU dropped from 3.2% to 1.2%, and USF dropped from 3.5% to 3.0%.
  • FIU has the lowest percentage of classes of 30 or fewer students, 46.9%, followed by UCF with 48.8% and UNF with 49.6%.