Small Student-Faculty Ratios: Beneficial or Not?

by Andrea Traietti on January 30, 2020


Larger classes, like Civ lectures, can be less stressful for some students since they depend less on student participation and discussion. Photo courtesy of


by Margaret Scales ’23

Opinion Staff


College websites and advertisements often publicize their student-faculty ratios, flaunting how small their class settings are. Although these intimate environments are beneficial in theory, are they really what college students want? 

At Providence College, the Development of Western Civilization program—better known as “Civ” amongst students and faculty at the College—is mandatory for all undergrads upon graduation. Civ consists of three intensive semesters of reading, writing, and discussion about important historical figures and events that effectively contributed to how western civilization has come to be today. These three semesters are followed by a semester-long colloquium, allowing students to apply what they have learned from Civ to a topic they are interested in. 

During those first three semesters, Civ consists of two large lectures each week and one smaller seminar each week. Because Civ is a humanities course, discussion plays a huge role, but more so in seminar than lecture due to its far more intimate class setting, exemplifying where that beloved student-faculty ratio comes into play. 

In contrast to its seemingly redeeming qualities, Brenna Fitzgerald ‘23 explains that she does “not find Civ lecture more stressful than other classes because participation is not mandatory.” This immense pressure on participating in the smaller, more intimate seminars as opposed to the more lenient lectures greatly contributes to why so many students like Fitzgerald prefer their lectures over their smaller classes.

Additionally, although attendance is not optional for any class, many students find that skipping their Civ lecture is far more feasible than other courses. Because the roster of students is so large, it is easy to get lost in the crowd, which is why there is less pressure to participate or even attend class.

Although these facets of lecture classes are very comforting to most students—overwhelmed with academics, sports, clubs, and a social life—they do beg the question: why take a class if you do not plan on going? 

When it comes to Civ, every student must take the course, so enrollment really is not up for discussion. However, students still find the same stress of seminar in their other chosen courses despite their interest. When asked about her classes for the following day, Katie Sartor ‘23 states, “Tomorrow I have my Civ lecture and I have psych, but I’m more worried about psych. In Civ lecture I’ll take a quiz but it’s like five questions, it’s a quicker quiz.” Although Sartor chose to take her psychology class as it is not required in the core curriculum, she still finds more comfort in going to her Civ lecture because of its predictability.

However, this rule certainly does not stand true for every course. Surely, many kids prefer their Civ lectures over their more demanding seminars because naturally, not everyone is the biggest fan of the Civ program. It is a very demanding course revolving around large amounts of reading, writing, and discussing, so it is understandable that any given math major, for example, might not love the Civ program. 

For example, Fitzgerald states,  “I am a psychology major, so I find myself preferring those classes over other classes.” Although the content of one’s classes within their major might be preferable, they still come at the cost of containing smaller class sizes and therefore sometimes a more stressful environment. 

Even though the benefits of being in a small classroom setting—getting to know your professors and peers better or being able to participate more, for example—seem superior in theory, is that really what students are looking for? 

The increased stress in more personal environments and subsequently higher expectations is a big price to pay for more desirable course content. It seems common that students agree with Sartor’s perspective—when it comes down to it, the predictability and lack of pressure of Civ lecture can be a weight off students’ shoulders.