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Twokin Consulting: Explore increasing course section sizes

This post is a continuation of a series of Twokin Consulting articles on how higher education institutions need to challenge the status quo using innovative ideas for reducing costs, increasing revenues, and improving campus operations.

Twokin Consulting Estimate of Implementation Difficulty


Twokin Consulting Estimate of Implementation Timeline

Long Time Frame (6 months to 24 months)

Twokin Consulting Estimate of Direct Financial Impact


Twokin Consulting Estimate of Campus Controversy it will Generate

Large debate and questioning

For a school looking to reduce expenses, Twokin Consulting often suggests the school look at size of course sections. Depending upon the school, a limit for the maximum size for a course section is defined at the department, college, or institutional level. For onground courses, physical classroom space is sometimes a key factor. A review of faculty or department preferences for teaching might show that certain classrooms are favored and as a result have defined physical capacity limits. Rather than having three sections of a course in a small classroom, is it possible to have one larger section in a larger classroom? Some course topics such as English composition require smaller class sections to allow for discussion and ample feedback. Though is this 15, 20, or 22 students per course section? In Twokin Consulting's experience, each school seems to have a different standard.

At one of my prior schools, we taught 140 online sections of the same introductory, undergraduate course each year. Our standard class size for this course was 26 students. Assuming all sections were full, this equates to supporting 3,640 students per year. If we were to increase the course size to 30 students – four additional students doesn’t seem too unreasonable – this would reduce the number of separate sections from 140 to 122. This would have a $50,000 annual savings in teaching cost for just this one course. An increase average class size can have a large impact when scaled across an entire institution.

For online courses, there is more flexibility in increasing course section size. The challenge that Twokin Consulting has seen for larger online sections is the level of student-to-faculty interaction that is expected and the timeframe for faculty to grade and return student materials. It is unrealistic to have 75 students in a course section and expect a faculty member to grade and provide substantive feedback on essays or projects in only a few days.

Any proposed increase in course section standards will illicit debate from faculty and students. It should be manageable as long as the proposed increases are not unrealistic.

Twokin Consulting specializes in helping supporting colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations in brainstorming strategies and ideas for improving operations.

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