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Opinion: UCLA must reduce class sizes to uphold top-ranked reputation

One larger lecture hall and one smaller lecture hall are pictured. UCLA should move to reduce class sizes. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Shallom Omotayo

Oct. 16, 2022 9:02 p.m.

As the most applied-to school in the nation, UCLA is home to approximately 31,600 undergraduate students – and the number continues to grow each year.

With more students entering the university, space in lecture halls is becoming more and more scarce, ultimately limiting students’ ability to have an engaging and personalized learning experience.

Despite this, UCLA was named the No. 1 public university in the nation by U.S. News & World Report for the sixth consecutive year.

According to U.S. News, an organization that releases a list of college rankings annually, a personal formula based on a variety of factors, such as class size, is used to determine a university’s score. Although the class size index impacts scoring in a manner that is difficult to quantify, it holds a weight of 8% in the calculation overall. Notably, undergraduate classes with fewer than 20 students contribute the highest scores to the class size index, resulting in a higher ranking, while classes with 50 or more students do not contribute to the index.

UCLA’s U.S. News profile states that 47.8% of classes have fewer than 20 students. However, out of UCLA’s vast undergraduate population, many Bruins do not experience these smaller classes. Instead, students mostly attend lectures in massive halls alongside hundreds of peers.

Often, the only instance in which students can enjoy the benefits of reduced class sizes is during discussions, which are not required for every course.

UCLA must increase efforts to reduce class size for all courses in order to ensure all students get the chance to benefit from the personalized learning smaller classes offer.

As it currently stands, UCLA offers a small assortment of classes with a reduced number of students. Among these are Fiat Lux classes, which are one-unit seminars led by Academic Senate faculty. A Fiat Lux is usually graded on attendance and participation with a light course load, as opposed to requiring detailed notes or memorized information.

However, Fiat Lux classes are typically restricted to a maximum of 20 students, meaning they should contribute high scores to the university’s class size index, by U.S. News standards.

The small Fiat Lux class sizes make them especially appealing to UCLA students, yet they are currently not as accessible as they could be.

UCLA should provide instructors with additional incentives to lead Fiat Lux seminars and increase student participation. Currently, any faculty member who chooses to lead a Fiat Lux course will not receive any reduction in teaching responsibilities, nor will they receive any additional salary.

“The university provides a small amount of additional research funds for teaching [a Fiat Lux] class,” said Tim Groeling, a communication professor who leads a Fiat Lux seminar on media bias, in an emailed statement. “But faculty make far less than if they were teaching another class in summer. As a result, it is mainly taking time away from other faculty responsibilities (service and research) or their activities outside UCLA.”

This limited compensation does not sufficiently motivate enough professors to lead small-group discussions. As a result, many students never even hear about Fiat Lux classes, much less have the opportunity to sign up for one.

Small class sizes provide numerous opportunities, allowing students to build meaningful connections with peers as well as professors. They also provide a forum in which students may be more comfortable contributing to discussions.

“I feel a lot more confident answering questions and talking to my peers in a smaller class size,” said Alizee Wouters, a first-year cognitive science student. “I was worried that in a lecture, I’m not really going to get close to the professor, but I know that in a Fiat Lux I can develop those relationships with a professor which might help me in the future.”

Of course, not every course is suited for a small-group setting. High-demand classes necessitate larger class capacity, and courses with a lab component are constrained by lab space needs, added UCLA spokesperson Katherine Alvarado in an emailed statement.

However, there is much to be gained from experiencing a wide array of class sizes. Large classes allow students to learn from a multitude of their peers, while small classes foster more intimate dialogue.

“I honestly don’t know if I could pick a specific class size,” Wouters said. “I like the variety.”

While variety in class size is important, not all courses should have hundreds of students.

Outside of Fiat Lux classes, there are few opportunities for students to enroll in small-group instruction.

Honors seminars are restricted to a maximum of 20 students and are designed for adjunct enrollment to primary lecture courses. The Undergraduate Student Initiated Education program allows undergraduate students to lead lower-division seminars of their own design. However, transfer students and upperclassmen cannot fully take advantage of this program, as they typically enroll in upper-division courses.

Class size plays an important role in college rankings for a reason. Faculty should be appropriately compensated, whether they teach lecture halls full of students or discussion-based seminars. UCLA must promote opportunities for small-group interaction for all students.

UCLA’s profile states that nearly half of the classes on campus include fewer than 20 students. Yet, that is not the lived experience of many Bruins.

For UCLA to be truly deserving of its No. 1 ranking, it must live up to its statistics. Reducing class sizes must become a priority for administrators to provide students with the quality education they deserve.

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