In Support of Small Schools

Four students sitting on the grass in front of a big modern university building
Four students sitting on the grass in front of a big modern university building

Packed lecture halls and being one in a sea of 80 or more students is a common image of a college classroom. However, at a small school like mine, Keene State College, no student is lost in the masses.

Sometimes small schools get a bad reputation: people say they're limiting, or they lack the resources that large universities offer. With an enrollment of around 5,500 students, Keene State is a small school focused on building community. We may be a small school, but I've found that a small school education is really to one's benefit.

When I'm in a classroom, more often than not I'm one student in a class with 15 to 20 people. Having small numbers means getting to know the people in your classes, and your professors, in a way that allows you to have honest discussions -- without fear of being drowned out.

"My experience is that smaller class sizes allow for closer relationships and deeper learning because you are, people are, right there, they're accountable," according to Dr. Mark Long, English faculty at Keene State College. "There are two things going on. One is that there's an individual relationship being built. But then there's also a community aspect as well."

The feeling of community at a small school develops more each time you sit down in a class. Unlike a large school, where there are hundreds of people in your major, a small school makes it possible to get to know a lot of the people in your field of study. You find that in those classes of 15 to 20 students you're seeing familiar faces. You can form academic friendships that last for four years -- it means you never have to sit alone in a lecture again. And the students aren't the only ones who benefit from it.

"That's one of the great pleasures of teaching at a college like this: you get to work with students across four years. That's really fun. Because you just see such growth," Dr. Long explained.

Your professors get to know you as individuals. They know you have trouble with long essays, or that you're interested in poetry or journalism studies. At my small school, the professors are more than a person at the head of the class -- they're an integral member of the discussion. You share thoughts and bounce ideas back and forth in a way that's difficult to do in large lectures. Professors at small schools can get to know you over the course of your degree and point you towards the opportunities that most benefit you. They know that you're interested in marketing, or international studies, or philosophy -- and they put that knowledge to use.

When the people and professors in my classes get to know me, I feel like my input to a discussion matters. You don't need to be nervous about making an assertion. Rather than 80 pairs of eyes watching you, it's a small group of students who have learned and grown alongside you. I studied abroad in England my junior year, and at my university I took a large lecture class. There were over 100 students, and three professors for the course.

It felt so different to be one, unknown face in the twenty rows of seats. No one knew my name, the professors never asked for our input, and I felt like I was only doing work because I had to -- not because it would be recognized as mine.

Not to say large schools are bad places, or that you won't get a good education there, but small schools offer something slightly different. You're never lost in the masses, or feel like you don't belong. Small schools help create close-knit classrooms and campuses. You're seen as an individual student instead of a statistic.

The classroom-community at my school helps students take ownership of their work and produce things that we're proud of -- rather than things we're required to get through. Being a "somebody" in a classroom means you're responsible for your work, you aren't just another unnamed face. When work is directly associated with a student in a small classroom, you feel a greater sense of dedication -- your individual reputation is being built, rather than a letter grade for a professor you probably won't see again.

Dr. Long told me, "The closer you can build a relationship with a student the more inclined the student, I think, will be to engage and make the assignment one's own."

Every time I enter the classroom as a senior at my small school, I know that I'm sitting beside people I've gotten to know for four years and who know me. My professor and the other students know who I am. They know my name. That's something a small school can offer: the chance to be known.