According to data obtained from the school’s University Planning Office, the percentage of small class sections – defined by the Ryersonian as having fewer than 30 students – has significantly decreased over the past decade.
This trend is most pronounced in fourth-year classes at the university.
From 2005 to 2016, there has been a 22.8 per cent decrease in small class sections offered to fourth-year students. In 2005, more than two-thirds (67.7 per cent) of all fourth-year class sections had fewer than 30 students. By 2016, this dropped to less than half (44.9 per cent).
Third-year social work student Titsy Steele said that she’s concerned because of the small number of classes offered, and that the ones that are offered have so many students enrolled in them.
“I found it really overwhelming to be in such large classes,” said Steele.
Ben Lewis, communications lead at the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA), said smaller class sizes “allow for more one-on-one time between professors and students and enhances the quality of education.”
Philosophy department undergraduate program director Andrew Hunter said smaller classes are also beneficial for staff.
“It’s unquestionably valuable and essential. The value is, obviously, that you can interact much more closely with the students – you as a faculty member can provide them with more feedback, more direction and you can also get more direction from them about what is working and what is not pedagogically,” said Hunter. “There is no question that it is desirable to have more of these.”
According to Common University Data Ontario, the percentage of fourth-year classes with fewer than 30 students across all Ontario universities with valid reporting data was 70 per cent in 2016. For Ryerson, the percentage of fourth-year classes with under 30 students was 45 per cent in 2016.
Across all years of undergraduate study at Ryerson, the overall decrease in class sections with fewer than 30 students has been 11.4 per cent from 2006 to 2015.
Shrinking class sizes are linked to the student-to-faculty ratio, according to the OCUFA. At Ryerson, the number of students to a single faculty member increased nearly 20 per cent between 2005 and 2016.
OCUFA president Gyllian Phillips said lack of faculty hiring is at fault for the large class sizes.
“The single biggest problem is simply that professors are not being hired into the classroom … At the same time, we’ve seen class sizes go up and faculty numbers stay stagnant or even drop a little bit, we’ve also seen funding for universities not keep pace with the rest of Canada. Ontario universities are funded the least of any province across Canada.”
Lewis says increasing education funding is part of the solution to growing class sizes.
“For years, Ontario has ranked last in Canada in per-student funding for universities and that continues with this year’s budget. Increasing funding for Ontario’s universities is the first step towards hiring more tenure and tenure-stream faculty and reducing class sizes.”
According to the University Planning Office, Ryerson is committed to curbing the problem.
“In the 10-year period between fall 2006 to fall 2016, Ryerson added 620 new sections and 582 new subsections to undergraduate courses,” the office said via email.
“Class sizes have increased as enrolment has increased over the last decade. However, it is important to note, though, that nearly all (98 per cent) of year four undergraduate subsection classes still had an average size of 25 students or less in fall 2016.”
Dejan Delic, the chair of Ryerson’s mathematics department, has seen class sizes grow over the last decade as enrolment increased. Delic says this is an issue that needs to be addressed, but that no change will happen unless students make it happen.
“To be honest I don’t see that much will be done in the years to come … It’s just [Ryerson saying,] ‘Students are just putting up with that, so we’re going to keep doing the same thing.’ And I hate to say that, but that’s the way it works. And I think something has to come directly from students, in the sense that they have to voice their concerns about the increase in class sizes, and not just accept it.”