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Oct. 6, 2017
How big are classes at UVM, and what does that mean for how faculty do their work? In their press release of Sept. 12, 2017, UVM’s administration claimed that “the majority of classes at UVM have 20 or fewer students in them.” Such a statement obscures more than it reveals.
First, students may rightly ask: Why then do so many of the classes I take have more—sometimes many more—than twenty students in them?
The answer is simply that the number of small classes offered is not a very useful measure of what students actually experience. What really matters is how many students are taking small classes at any given time, or how many seats are offered in classes of different sizes. Looking at number of seats rather than classes at UVM, only 26% of available seats are in classes of 20 of fewer students with 74% of the seats in classes larger than 20—and 23% of those seats in classes with 100 or more students. Most of the time, in other words, most students are enrolled in classes larger than twenty.
Second, the press release implies that smaller classes mean UVM faculty do less work than faculty at other universities.
It is simply wrong to imply that smaller classes are easier to teach. Our faculty are proud to be a part of an institution that takes teaching seriously and allows us to work closely with our students. Many of UVM’s small sections are writing–intensive, requiring extensive faculty time and effort. Teaching students how to write effectively requires faculty to spend many hours every week reading and commenting on student work. Thus, small class sizes do not necessarily suggest less time commitment from faculty. The faculty at UVM are also proud that we do the vast majority of grading ourselves. This is in contrast to most flagship public universities in this country where graduate student assistants to do most of the grading. Again, this effort provides our students with a much higher quality education, but it comes at the cost of many more hours of work for our faculty.
UVM is rightly proud that more of its classes are smaller than those at many large flagship public universities around the country. Small classes often offer a better educational experience and allow students more direct contact with UVM’s teacher scholars. United Academics values the small classes that UVM offers its students and the faculty who work hard to teach those classes.
 If you look at credit-bearing classes with non-zero enrollments and eliminate things like independent study, a majority of classes are enrolled with less than 20 students.