Resource to find average class size at colleges.
March 27, 2013 2:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for an established, respected online resource that can give me hard numbers on the average class size at American colleges.

I'm looking for an established site that gives stats about American colleges (cost, demographics, etc.) and includes "Average Class Size," (i.e. the average number of students in the average course).

The sources I've found either don't list that (Princeton Review) or only have that info for a small number of schools (College Board, Petersons).

I am not looking for student-faculty ratio and I need a single source for this information for a number of schools (i.e., I can't use individual college sites or a bunch of rankings systems, I need to be able to search a single database/source for a bunch of colleges).

It's been a while since I did college research and I'm not sure where to go for the most credible info in the 21st century!
posted by annabellee to Education (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
AFAIK, average class size is not regularly reported or compiled, simply because it's an almost useless number. Freshman/intro/survey courses at most colleges and universities are always much larger than upperclass major courses, which tend to run small. Plus there are study abroad "classes" or niche electives that only a handful of students will enroll in.

Schools probably only self-report this if the "average" makes them look good. But sources such as those you listed above don't require it because they know it isn't a good indicator of educational quality or even the actual class sizes students can expect.

Can you explain why you are looking for that particular statistic?
posted by trivia genius at 2:34 PM on March 27, 2013

Public schools have to report this (or at least have to make it available, and they get requests from things like College Board for it), but like trivia genius said, this is not information that will be reported by most private schools, because why would they?
posted by brainmouse at 2:45 PM on March 27, 2013

A follow-up to that though -- The US News and World Report survey asks something at least on those lines, so any school that chooses to participate in that (and gets put on the list) would have a number on there -- I believe it's more along the lines of "what % of classes have fewer than 20 students" then a straight credit hours divided by number of classes number like you're looking for.
posted by brainmouse at 2:48 PM on March 27, 2013

This is how US News and World Report presents the information -- in ranges, as brainmouse said.
posted by Francolin at 2:49 PM on March 27, 2013

This is so supremely helpful. Thank you so much.
posted by annabellee at 2:51 PM on March 27, 2013

The US News data is drawn from the Common Data Set (Part I). Most schools put this document online, and you can usually find it by googling, for example, common data set harvard.

While you cannot use CDS data to calculate an institutional average, it should give you a good idea about quartiles and the general distribution.
posted by yonglin at 3:03 PM on March 27, 2013

There has been methodological debate over the last decade-plus about how the US News survey should handle reporting of class sizes. If you are curious about the background, and why they've settled on the current method (some problems with previous methods), just searching "US News" "college rankings" "class size" will bring you a few good links on that.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:03 PM on March 27, 2013

Just to note that these numbers, if you can find them, are prone to being very misleading.

Say you have a school with 50 courses, 49 of which have 19 students and one of which has 1000. Then 98% of courses have fewer than 20 students, which is great! And average class size is 39, which sounds pretty good! But most students are in the 1000 person class, and not in any 19-person class.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:45 PM on March 27, 2013

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