Colleges love to market their small class sizes to lure students in. Not to mention how the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic drove conversations surrounding student-teacher ratios and students per class into the spotlight of politics and mainstream media. But you may be wondering whether class size actually impacts your education.
Simply put, class size points to significant benefits like higher academic achievement and improved confidence, among other long-lasting impacts. This article is here to decode everything there is to know about student-teacher ratios in college, class sizes, and what this means for you or your college student.
Student to Teacher Ratios: At A Glance
- What is ‘Student-Teacher’ Ratio? This metric compares the number of students per teacher employed by the school (Public School Review).
- What Is the Average Student-Teacher Ratio in the United States? Data pulled in 2020 shows that the average student-to-faculty ratio in postsecondary schools is 14 students per teacher (National Center for Education Statistics).
- What is the Average Classroom Size in colleges? Class size averages vary by institution, major, area of study, and course, making it difficult to identify an average college classroom size (Best Colleges).
- What are the Benefits of Smaller Class Sizes? The benefits of smaller classes in college often lead to better academic achievement and improved gains for low-income and minority students (Lydian Academy).
- How to Supplement Your College Education at Home? Some easy ways to support your college coursework include building a regular study schedule, practicing healthy habits, and minimizing distractions while working.
What is 'Student-Teacher' Ratio?
The Glossary of Education Reform defines 'student-teacher' ratio as the number of students enrolled at a specific college compared to the number of full-time or full-time equivalent faculty. Calculating this metric is simple—divide your school's total enrollment by the number of instructional faculty members. When you hear about an 18:1 student-teacher ratio, you know that there is one professor for every 18 students enrolled at the school.
But why is this measurement important? Many researchers and education professionals rely on this number to evaluate the workload and resource allocation among the staff. This term has also migrated to politics and mainstream media when discussing students' school experiences.
However, a lower student-faculty ratio is not an exact measurement of in-class experience or student achievement. A college or university with lower ratios may not evenly assign students to instructors, resulting in some classes with a larger than average class size.
How Was Student Performance Affected by COVID-19?
When 2020 hit, so too did an unprecedented decline in student performance. Some of the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic ranged from severe faculty shortages, higher than average student-teacher ratios, higher absentee rates, and declining mental health. This reality has only been prolonged as instructors and students face more online learning than before.
It was also amid COVID-19 that college students began to supplement their education with additional tutoring—though many campuses offer in-person tutoring services, many of these became unavailable with the pandemic. So it should come as no surprise that 2020 marked the beginning of a massive growth trajectory in online learning. Services like Learner have only continued to increase in popularity; a recent study predicted that by 2026, the online tutoring market will have increased by $182.32 billion (Technavio).
What Is the Average Student-Teacher Ratio in the United States?
The average student-teacher ratio in the United States is 15.3:1 (Brookings Institute). However, there are no student-teacher ratio requirements at the federal level. Instead, these codes are established by the state, county, local educational systems, or colleges.
Thirty-six states specify a maximum student-teacher ratio for K-12 public schools. Colleges are the anomaly since the institution is responsible for setting student-ratio caps.
What Is the Average Student-Teacher Ratio in Colleges?
The average student-teacher ratio at U.S. colleges is 18 students per faculty member. Remember, this metric compares the number of enrolled students at a college or university to the number of full-time faculty members or full-time equivalent instructors (think: visiting instructors, teaching assistants, research faculty). With this in mind, the average ratio expresses that there is one faculty member for every 18 U.S. college students.
Higher ratios generally suggest more students than full-time professors, whereas lower student-teacher ratios suggest more opportunities for one-on-one attention and a better quality education (Brookings Institute).
What Is the Average Classroom Size in colleges?
Though average student-teacher ratios can easily be identified at the lower grade levels, it is near impossible to determine a single average when considering U.S. colleges.
The primary reason for this is the wide discrepancy that exists between schools. Whether you attend a private, public, graduate, undergraduate, two-year, or 4-year college, the average class size differs widely (Best Colleges).
For example, 82% of Columbia University and Claremont McKenna College courses have less than 20 students (College Kickstart). At Texas A&M, one of the largest U.S. universities, undergraduate science courses have an average of 47 students and 14 students per class at the Bush School of Government and Public Service (Data and Research Services, Texas A&M University).
How Is the Student-Teacher Ratio (STR) Different From Class Size?
Student-faculty ratio (STR) compares the number of enrolled students to the number of professors across an entire school. Traditionally, education experts look at this metric to evaluate the approximate workload of each teacher and how resources are allocated across the institution's population.
Class size is more intuitive—this number reflects the exact number of students in a classroom, making it easier to determine when looking at a specific area of study, course, or major. Though STR and class size are often discussed interchangeably, education experts prefer evaluating class size to understand education experiences.
If you're wondering why the researchers don't rely on STR as their primary data, know that this ratio does not accurately represent the number of students actually assigned to each class. Simply put, lower STR ratios do not mean that a school evenly distributes its teachers across classrooms. Even if the school has a low STR of 10:1, some teachers may have a large classroom of 25 students, whereas instructors with specific expertise may only have smaller groups of 9 students (Brookings Institute).
What Are the Benefits of Smaller Class Size?
Across the board, education experts agree that smaller class sizes are best for student achievement regardless of their background, learning style, or field of study. Here are some of the greatest gains of a good student-faculty ratio.
Significant academic gains
A study conducted by Cornell University found smaller classes closely tied to better grades (Generations College). This is significant as college students prepare to enter the job market or apply for graduate programs, both of which use grades to evaluate an applicant.
Increased engagement and hands-on learning opportunities
Studies have continually linked small classes with increased student engagement. With fewer students, professors can better ensure all students understand the material. Group discussions and hands-on learning opportunities also become easier to conduct compared to large, lecture-style classes (Generations College).
Flexibility to adapt the coursework to fit students' needs
Since the professor can interact with the students and better understand their learning preferences, it is easier for them to adapt lessons for these needs. Instructors can also truly engage one-on-one with each student to ensure they understand the course content, leading to more effective teaching and higher student grades (University of San Francisco).
Which Students Benefit the Most From Lower Student-Teacher Ratios?
Lower STRs are generally beneficial for all college students, regardless of their learning style or background. However, data points to some students benefiting more than others. Students from low-income households, students of minority groups, and those with learning challenges are shown to gain the most from lower ratios in high school classrooms.
Numerous studies reveal a strong correlation between students from low-income homes and reduced average class size (Public School Review). The data shows how this student population is better equipped with the skills for long-term academic success when placed in a smaller environment.
Data shows that students of a minority group exhibit higher graduation rates at schools with lower STRs (Class Size Matters). These smaller learning environments provide individual attention, encourage participation, and improve confidence among students from minority groups.
Students with learning challenges
In smaller classrooms, instructors can offer individual support to students with learning challenges or disabilities. Not only does this help the student to develop a stronger relationship with their professor, but the instructor can better understand what helps each student effectively learn (Lydian Academy).
How to Supplement Your College Education At Home
Whether you've been able to manage your college coursework with ease or are struggling to stay on top of deadlines, there are numerous ways to help you gain the most from your college experience. From online tutoring to distraction-free zones, here are four easy ways to support your academic success in any postsecondary school course.
Build a daily school and homework schedule
A regular school and homework schedule is extremely helpful for making these less-fun tasks become a habit. This makes prioritizing homework become a regular habit instead of a last-minute rush.
Of course, a balanced schedule doesn't necessarily mean prioritizing work above all else—giving yourself time to unwind before going to bed helps improve your mental health, along with eating nutritious foods to boost your energy and concentration (KidsHealth.org).
Create distraction-free zones
Sitting down and being able to concentrate on homework is often easier said than done. To avoid unnecessary distractions, try putting notifications on silent or leave your device in another room. Then, let yourself take regular breaks to give your brain a rest (University of North Carolina Chapel Hill)!
Be serious about attendance
Taking a sick day from time to time is normal—in fact, it's even healthy! However, attending school is one of the most important ways to ensure you stay on top of lessons, assignments, and tests (University of North Carolina Chapel Hill).
Find additional learning support
If you are struggling in school, hiring a professional tutor may provide the additional help you need. Some tutoring websites connect you to independent tutors for 300+ subjects, whereas platforms like Learner are an easy way to get paired with an expert math, science, or ELA tutor with the qualifications needed to help you through your college class.
What Parents and Students Are Saying About Learner
Learner is one of the most well-respected online tutoring services for college students. From highly qualified math and STEM experts to ELA and test prep tutors, Learner provides an easy way to get quality academic support in the subjects you need.
One reviewer wrote, "It has been super helpful to get a deeper dive into the math and gain confidence and my understanding! I think that through Learner, I have been able to learn past the foundations and dive into my understanding on a higher level."
Why Trust Learner Tutors?
Learner is the most trusted platform to get paired with an expert tutor in the subject you need. Here are some of the reasons why customers trust Learner tutors.
A custom-match math expert for everything you need to solve
Learner relies on an individualized approach to guarantee every student's success. The innovative platform asks all users to complete a one-minute assessment to learn about their tutoring needs, learning style, personality, motivation, and other personal requirements. Then, the platform's matching specialists hand-pick a math tutor, ELA tutor, or test-prep expert who can effectively provide you with the best academic support.
World-class tutors who are pedagogy experts
Learner tutors are the best in class. Only 25% of tutoring applicants are accepted—that's because Learner strives for excellence in their tutors and only hires experts with the best credentials. Plus, all Learner tutors are genuinely passionate about teaching. Learner's service rests on the belief that well-qualified pedagogy experts with excellent people skills have the power to engage and inspire the next generation of learners.
Tutors customize lesson plans at your own pace and deliver in your learning style
With Learner's customized tutoring approach, students are empowered to learn at their own pace. A personalized lesson plan is developed for individual students so that sessions are guided by their unique strengths and learning style. Plus, Learner tutors continually modify their lesson plans to reflect how the student is progressing toward their goals.
Beyond the subject matter, Learner tutors help define trajectories after the passing grade
Some tutoring businesses focus only on the subject matter. At Learner, tutors work with students to identify and work towards long-term achievement. By providing a customized approach to learning that focuses on your interests and motivation, Learner tutors can equip you with the motivation and skills to succeed in and outside the classroom.
Get Started with Learner Today
Learner can help connect you to the right tutor today. The first step is to visit Learner.com and complete a one-minute assessment. This quiz is intended to gather information on your learning style, personality, and motivation. After reviewing your responses, Learner's team of academic advisors will contact you for a brief phone call to schedule your first session.
Frequently Asked Questions
There can be a lot of nuances and technicalities when understanding student-faculty ratios and class sizes in U.S. colleges. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions to help you better understand these terms.
What is the ideal teacher-student ratio?
Numerous experts have landed on 18:1 as the ideal student-teacher ratio in classrooms. This ratio allows teachers to facilitate a healthy learning environment that provides individualized help. Date points to lower ratio classrooms being more task-focused, disciplined, and engaged (Public School Review).
Why does class size matter?
Class size brings significant benefits for both the professors and students. With reduced class sizes, instructors can better engage with students, provide one-on-one support, and facilitate classwide discussions. Data suggested that students learn more in these settings, as evidenced by better grades and long-term achievement (Brookings Institute).
Does reducing class size improve achievement?
Yes! Numerous studies have shown the positive effect of smaller classes on achievement. Compared to students in larger classes, students in small classrooms (especially those in smaller environments starting in the early grades) show more significant long-term gains (Brookings Institute).
What is the maximum class size?
It depends on the college, area of study, degree level, and more! No maximum class size is mandated for a college education at the federal level. Rather, this decision varies from school to school by degree (Best Colleges).
How do you calculate the student-teacher ratio?
The math is simple—divide the total number of enrolled students by the total number of teachers (or full-time equivalent faculty) at a school. Your answer will be the student-teacher ratio or how many students per teacher at the organization. Higher student-teacher ratios suggest that class sizes will be larger, whereas a low ratio points to fewer students per class.