US News and World Report, ground zero for college-related lists, has an intriguing one today:
Colleges where tuition is under $10,000 and the majority of classes have nineteen or fewer students. (The catch is that they’re all public institutions, and, except in two cases, the <10K pricetag applies only to in-state students. The exceptions: South Dakota’s Dakota State University and Minnesota’s Bemidji State University.)
All this is good to know, but the class-size metric has always struck me as less crucial than is sometimes claimed. Definitely, small classes are great in certain instances: upper-level seminars; workshops in disciplines like writing, music, and art; and classes for first-year students, where hearing and being heard can help ease one’s way into the college environment. But lecture classes are appropriate in many cases–certainly some of my own most fondly remembered courses, with the aforementioned David Brion Davis, Alvin Kernan, and Richard Brodhead, were lectures. And I gather from Lizy that at Vassar, with its all-seminars-all-the-time ethos, things can get pret-ty bogged down by long-winded students’ not necessarily greatly informed comments. I recall some of there forebears in my long-ago college days, who would preface lengthy disquisitions with the the phrase, “I didn’t get a chance to read the assignment, but….”
One of my Swarthmore-professor friends told me that in a recent seminar, students more or less ganged up on one of their peers who they felt had taken too much airtime, with much eye-rolling and soft groaning whenever this student took the floor. This kind of Lord of the Flies-type scene can be avoided with a good, old-fashioned lecture.
Then there’s this: the professor is the one who supposedly is an expert about the subject. The students are paying good money to partake in his or knowledge—not that of their fellow students.