Size Matters

by Dr. Anastasia Tosouni
February 25, 2021
College Classes

SSU prides itself on being the only public university in California to have achieved membership in the Council of Public Liberal Arts College, and rightfully so. What does Liberal Arts education mean? Liberal Arts education means small classes, mentor-instructors who form warm relationships with their students, and transformative opportunities.

The CCJS department’s curriculum, policies, and overall culture is perfectly aligned with these goals, goals which are also illustrated in SSU’s Strategic Priorities and Core Values. We strive to offer a curriculum that includes a variety of course formats such as seminars and Writing Intensive Curriculum courses capped at 25, upper division core and electives that do not exceed 40, opportunities for real-world work, community connections, and career networking (see CCJS Internship Program), one-on one advising, and overall, a personalized academic experience that is challenging and transformative.

A small student-faculty ratio does not only live up to SSU’s commitment and rhetoric, however.  It is also the most effective approach to higher education for our student population. In fact, our small class size approach is tailored to our students’ needs, and academic suits and pursuits. It is the most commonly cited answer to the question: Why did you select to come to Sonoma State?

“I did not want to be another number.”

“I did not want to get lost in large auditoriums...the transition away from home and into adulthood was already intimidating enough.”

“I liked the friendly instructors and looked forward to making connections with my teachers.”

“It seemed to be a home-like environment with professors who listen to each student and care about their well-being.”

Those are some examples of the answers professors typically get. “Well, Liberal Arts education for public school tuition, is what we say we offer here, and it seems like we actually live up to that”...we often respond.

Our approach is both challenging and rewarding. Professors are called to play several roles: academic expert, research scholar, teacher, lecturer, performer (= stand-up comedian for some of us), advisor, but also supportive listener, friend, cheerleader, advocate... We carry our humanity on our sleeve and we often become our students’ shoulder to cry on, or the friend to laugh with. The demand for that personal connection has never been higher than since the pandemic started.  See, when CCJS faculty proclaim “we’re all in this together”, they actually mean it and prove it every day.

You may wonder whether our commitment to a Liberal Arts education-forward curriculum may inadvertently cause a delay in students’ meeting graduation requirements. It does not. Our carefully planned curriculum is both current and efficient. Our full time faculty members serve as advisors who every semester work closely with each student in their roster to make sure they are on track. Each student in our major receives this individual attention in and outside the classroom. Our students do not fail to graduate because there is no room in classes they need. That, despite the fact that ours is one of the most popular majors in the School of Social Sciences, and in fact, at SSU. We serve approximately 300 students at the moment and our graduation rate is higher than the University’s average.

As the pandemic continues to strain the CSU budget, we continue our commitment to the Liberal Arts education that sets SSU apart, and to offering students the high-quality, challenging, and personable academic experience that made them select us in the first place. Whereas we are all willing to make adjustments in order to meet budget cuts, CCJS will resist sacrificing our students’ growth, our longstanding commitment to excellence and quality, and the University’s stated values in the altar of fiscal austerity. Instead, we will continue to vigorously argue that maintaining, rather than eliminating the most appealing features of our program (small class size, connections with professors, hands-on work and community involvement) while doing away with frivolous spending is the best way for the University to overcome the financial strain caused by the pandemic or whatever unforeseen catastrophe may be brought upon us in the (hopefully far) future.