Several years ago, Krupp Professor of European Studies Charles S. Maier '60 decided to create a historical studies core course designed for students looking for small courses.
"I enjoy small courses, and like being able to pose questions to students," Maier says. "It's fun to have a group of around 40 to 50."
But a few years later, Maier decided to stop offering the course, which covered the history of economic thought and policy making, due to its consistently small enrollment.
This semester, Maier is teaching a core course on post-war European history with only 38 students enrolled, but last semester, his course on World War II drew 201 students, according to records at the registrar's office.
Large courses such as "World War II" tend to predominate in the core program, with the average core course enrollment over the past five years hovering around 150 students.
This semester, core courses average 140 students, slightly lower than the average figure of 168 for core courses last semester.
Susan W. Lewis, director of the core program, says that although core courses may have a high average enrollment, not all core courses are large. Lewis adds that the real issue is students tending to gravitate toward larger courses, such as Literature and Arts C-37: "The Bible and Its Interpreters."
"Both last fall and last spring, 50 percent of the core courses were under 100 [people]," Lewis says. "Because there are small courses, the question is why so many students choose the large ones."
But enrollment records available at the registrar's office show it is difficult to find courses with fewer than 100 students in the moral reasoning and Literature and Arts C subdivisions of the program.
Disregarding Social Analysis 10: "Principles of Economics," which this semester drew 943 students but meets primarily in small sections, literature and arts C courses have the highest average enrollment, at 179.
The smallest course offering in this area, Literature and Arts C-63: "Jerusalem: The Holy City," taught by Dorot Professor of the Archaeology of Israel Lawrence E. Stager '65, has 114 students.
Similarly, Moral Reasoning courses this semester have an average enrollment of 175 students. The smallest course, Moral Reasoning 50: "The Public and the Private in Politics, Morality, and Law" has 103 students.
Why So Big?
Lewis attributes these high enrollments to the original design of the core program.
"When the core was created, the presumption was there would only be a limited number of offerings in each area," she says. "It wasn't created with the presumption that there would be small courses."