Data check: Class sizes continue to grow at Ontario’s universities

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New data shows that average class sizes are on the rise at Ontario’s universities, threatening the quality of education received by students. Ontario needs to start hiring more full-time professors to address this problem.

Data on average class size in Ontario universities are hard to find. Ever since the Interim Accountability Agreements between universities and the provincial government revealed huge increases in the average class size as students in the “double cohort,” public data on class size has been limited to the number of courses by size range and by year of undergraduate study. There are differences between institutions of course, but the overall trends drawn from the latest Common University Data Ontario (CUDO) reports suggests that class sizes continue to swell, even after the double cohort has moved on.

Looking at the percentage of courses by size ranges reveals steadily eroding conditions. Between 2005 and 2012, the proportion of first and second year classes with a hundred or fewer students fell by ten per cent; the share of classes with more than a hundred students increased by more than 40 per cent. The distribution of third and fourth year courses has shown less drastic shifts, but the trend is clearly towards larger class sizes. The number of fourth year classes with more than one hundred students has tripled.

Short of a return to the kind of reporting for the original accountability agreements, there is no way to determine what actual class sizes are at Ontario universities. At best we can get a sense of the magnitude of the change by assigning a constant number for each size range to come up with an overall class size. For example, if the minimum number of students in each size range (using 15 for the less than 30 range) were assigned to stand-in for average class size and come up with the number of students enrolled in the classes in that size range, class sizes will have increased by a seven per cent for fourth year students and 22 per cent for first year students. The increase might not be as much if different stand-in figures were used, but so far no one has suggested that larger classes are better for students.

OCUFA has argued for years that increased faculty hiring is needed to preserve the quality of education received by students. Since 2000, enrolment has increased by 64 per cent, while the number of full-time faculty has only increased by 30 per cent. More faculty means smaller classes, more one-on-one engagement, and better learning outcomes.

Source: Institutional CUDO reports
Note: Nipissing data are not included for some years because it is not clear that the data include only credit courses

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