Keeping it small
Minnesota's Private Colleges offer students access to faculty and a small group setting in which to learn. Our institutions average a student-faculty ratio of 13 to 1 and 59% of our classes have fewer than 20 students. We maintain these proportions by design. It's a part of our commitment to providing students with the best learning environment possible.
By comparison, 38% of classes at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus and 35% of classes at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) institutions have fewer than 20 students.
In an era of mass education and a financial environment where colleges and universities are working diligently to reduce costs, why do small liberal arts colleges continue to focus on maintaining a small campus with small class sizes?
In response to this question, the Council of Independent Colleges in its 50th anniversary book cites the work of Alexander Astin, founding director of UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute. For more than 40 years, Astin studied college experiences of undergraduate students. "The undergraduate experience at small, residential, liberal arts colleges tends to promote strong cognitive growth, the development of solid values, and a high rate of degree completion," he said. In addition, Astin highlights small class sizes and teacher-student communication as contributing to effective undergraduate education.
The perceived value of small class sizes is apparent in college ranking systems as well. For example, U.S. News and World Report ranks colleges and universities on several measures of quality, including student-faculty ratio and class size. A lower class size and student-faculty ratio receive higher rating scores.
The National Survey of Student Engagement, which queries undergraduates about their educational experiences, has identified student-faculty interaction as an important predictor of success in college. Specifically, a student's ability to discuss class assignments and career plans with instructors, receive prompt feedback and have an opportunity to work on a research project with faculty can directly impact the overall educational experience.
The value which our alumni place on small undergraduate classes is evident in new research conducted by Twin Cities-based Hardwick Day. Nearly 91% of Minnesota's Private Colleges alums said that they benefited from small classes and about 92% from personal interaction with professors (these percentages include scores of four or five on a five-point scale). About two-thirds of students often engaged in conversations with professors outside of class.
By many measures, small classes and personal attention contribute to a high quality educational experience for students.