Q&A: Class size in an online college course

Answer: Most online schools have both a minimum and maximum number of students set for each class. This number depends on the course and the need for the course in the school's programs. Some classes have as few as four to five students, while other courses may have a maximum enrollment of 30 to 35 students. Again, this depends on the course and the need for the course.

For all colleges, courses are categorized as either "required" courses or "general" courses. General courses are similar to electives in high school. All students, regardless of their program, have a specific number of required courses and a specific number of general courses they need to complete in order to graduate. Students can usually choose from a list of general courses to meet their program's requirements, enjoying a bit of flexibility in their choices. Meanwhile, required courses are firmly set for each program, which means every student in that program will have the same list of required classes they'll need to complete. Because of that difference, with general courses classes tend to be a medium size, around 10 or so, while required courses vary more, based on the need for maximizing course enrollment, or controlling the ratio of students to each professor in a given course.

There are benefits to having a smaller class. With a smaller class size, students are able to build better peer-to-peer relationships. If you only have seven or eight other students in your class, you may feel more comfortable addressing specific topics than you would in a larger class. The students usually help each other more with assignments and lectures. You may also have more direct communication with the instructor and assignments may be modified for fewer students. For example, if there is a group assignment, the class may work together on the project.

There are also benefits to being in a larger class. With more students in a class, you have an opportunity to meet more individuals in your college and/or program. With more students you also have a variety of responses. This provides more shared experiences and often leads to interesting, dynamic class debates in the discussion forums.

With each online course, the short-term goals are to learn from the instructor and overall experience. The long-term goals are to graduate and become successful in your field. Remembering these goals will keep you on track, regardless of your class sizes.

Dr. Beverley BrowningDr. Beverly A. Browning has been consulting in the areas of grant writing, contract bid responses, and organizational development for nearly four decades. Her clients have included chambers of commerce, faith-based organizations, units of local and county municipal governments, state and federal government agencies, school districts and colleges, social and human service agencies, hospitals, fire departments, service associations, and Fortune 500 corporations. Dr. Browning has assisted clients and workshop participants throughout the United States in receiving awards of more than $250 million. Dr. Browning is the author of over 37 grants-related publications, including Grant Writing For Dummies™, Grant Writing for Educators, How to Become a Grant Writing Consultant, Faith-Based Grants: Aligning Your Church to Receive Abundance, and Perfect Phrases for Writing Grant Proposals. She holds degrees in Organizational Development, Public Administration, and Business Administration. Dr. Browning is a grant writing course developer and online facilitator for Ed2Go.com; former faculty member at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Organization Management and a current member of the American Association of Grant Professionals. She is CEO of Bev Browning & Associates (BBA, Inc.); Founder and Director of the Grant Writing Training, and most recently, the new Vice President for Grants Professional Services at eCivis Inc. (www.ecivis.com)