Room for debate: Small lecture sizes would promote better learning environment

Students complain a lot about the decisions the UW administration makes for this university. Tuition is too high. Textbooks cost too much. There aren’t enough restaurants on campus. Red Square is too slippery in all of this Seattle rain.

When those decisions are boiled down, though, it’s difficult to please everyone. Tuition is high because the school would otherwise be dangerously close to bankruptcy — in 1991-1993, higher education received 9 percent of the state’s general fund budget, but in 2011-2013 it received only 3 percent. The price of textbooks is out of the school’s immediate control and the bricks in Red Square were most likely the cheapest option for its construction.

What it comes down to is that running the university is no easy feat. However, if there was suddenly a magic wand placed in my hand that passed over all of the decision-making control, I would look to class sizes.

According to Education Week, research, for the most part, supports the belief in the benefits of smaller classes, which are linked to improvements in student achievement. Throughout the state’s disinvestment in higher education and the university’s budget woes, class size has skyrocketed, especially in the already large survey courses.

For example, in 2003, Introduction to Geological Sciences had no lecture session and sections were limited to 22 students and nine teaching assistants. In 2012, however, lectures reached an outrageous 440 students with 19 sections, 26 students for each, taught by seven TAs.

Large class sizes promote a disinterested form of learning that results in bad attendance, rare professor-student communication, and rampant distractions in class, from Facebook-checking to texting to taking a nap. In order to have students engaged in the course material, there needs to be a smaller professor-student ratio that provides the former with more time for people in their class and makes the latter feel more accountable for what they’re being taught.

At a university with such a prestigious reputation, learning environment needs to be a higher priority. Money raised from private funds or the upcoming 16 percent tuition-increase can be put toward decreasing lecture-class sizes in order to maintain that reputation, along with providing UW students with a better education. Especially since they sure are paying enough for it.

Reach Opinion Editor Katie Burke at opinion@dailyuw.com.

Twitter: @OpinionDailyUW

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