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Re: Physics - Is there a link for class size statistics?

  1. Dec 5, 2009 #1
    Not sure if this is much of guidance, but seemed to be the best category?

    Is there a place where I can check nationwide statistics for Undergraduate Physics enrollment?

    I know that Physics I and II always have a good enrollment of 15-25 students, but as soon as it crosses that upper level barrier, numbers drop significantly.

    In my institution, there is no physics major available, but we do offer a Physics minor and beyond. The reason I say beyond, is because technically we are short maybe 3-4 classes from a major.

    Classes offered are:

    -Calculus based Physics I, II, and III
    -Quantum Mechanics I and II
    -Intermediate Mechanics I and II
    -Electromagnetism I and II

    When I started with the physics sequence, physics I and II both had around 25 students. Then in physics III, there were only 3 of us. Quantum I and Emag I also only had 5 students each. Next semester Intermediate Mechanics and Emag 2 are being offered and there are only 2 registered for Mechanics, and 4 for Emag 2.

    Now getting to the point of why I started this topic, is that they are threatening to close one, if not both section due to low enrollment. I am frustrated with this and doing my best to keep them open as I need the classes for my Physics Minor and Math Electives. I am setting up meetings with Deans, Provosts and soon the President of the school explaining my frustration with the possible closings.

    Can I get some info in regards to everything? How is enrollment in other institutions? Am I wrong and they should be closed? Shed some light for me. :(
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 5, 2009 #2
    Depends on the size. At Case Western there's a typical Physics I, II, and III for engineering and physics-related fields. All of these classes are held in lecture halls with probably about 200 in P1 and P2 and 70 or so in P3.

    As far as physics majors go there are like ~10-15 per graduating class so all the upper undergraduate classes have 20-30 people in them typically.

    Heck even the advanced physics I&II had like 30 people in each.
  4. Dec 5, 2009 #3
    15-25 students? As in number of students in the class?
    I've seen numbers much, much higher. The two state universities I've been to have had numbers in the 100's for Physics I and nearly as high for Physics II. I think we had nearly 300 in our quiz section for Physics I, but there was one quiz section for both Physics I classes.

    It drops off quick though. My modern physics had about 20 people initially, and about 15 people took the final.
    The Complex Variables course I have this semester has 7 people, but two of them are grad students and one of them is a professor (no idea why he's in the class...I thought he was an engineering professor, but I can't imagine he'd need the class in that case...maybe he's chemistry? chemical engineering?)

    The class numbers dropped off quick after the freshman survey courses. They took another drop after the engineering students started specializing after Differential equations and Linear algebra.
  5. Dec 5, 2009 #4
    So I guess its just where I am. But I still don't see how closing a section resolves in anything good. It gets frustrating when you try to do something and you can't. :rolleyes:

    Edit: What about numbers for upper level physics? How is that down yonder?
  6. Dec 5, 2009 #5


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    The introductory physics classes (mechanics and electromagnetism) at Penn State, where I'm currently a grad student, have nearly 1000 people each (and those are offered every semester). As an undergrad, I was at a much smaller university, but still the equivalent intro classes had probably ~200 people each. So those two introductory classes are typically pretty large. Once you get past the intro classes, though, you get into more specialized topics that are usually only of interest to physics majors, and the class size will more or less be determined by the number of physics majors at the university. That number depends on the size of the university, I'm sure, but typically it's on the order of 20-40. Of course, if your university doesn't offer a physics major at all, I can see how that would cut the numbers down a lot...
  7. Dec 5, 2009 #6


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    Come to think of it, I remember seeing statistics somewhere online for the number of physics majors that graduate each year from several universities. That would give you a good idea of the class size in upper-division courses. Unfortunately, I don't remember where I got the statistics, but you might look on the APS (American Physical Society) website.
  8. Dec 5, 2009 #7
    I went to one school where classes were 5-10 people for upper level physics. I am now attending a larger public school with lower academic standards. Senior physics classes are 20-30 people.
  9. Dec 5, 2009 #8
    I have also seen classes canceled due to less than ~5 people signed up.
  10. Dec 5, 2009 #9
    Well since I am at a smaller school, I guess I have the advantage of talking to "officials" to try and persuade them to not cancel it. Something I have to deal with then unfortunately. Hopefully a Physics major will spur soon enough for to try and take a chuck of it with me to graduation. But that is another promise that is yet to be executed.
  11. Dec 5, 2009 #10
    I don't have official statistics, but to get a picture of what bigger universities are like, at the U of MN, the intro physics (calc based) class sizes look like they're at least 200-300. Not including the various honors physics courses.

    My sophomore-level physics classes appear to have about 100.

    My junior-senior-level Analytical Mechanics class started out at the beginning of the semester with, I would guess, 70 people. Now it's probably closer to 40-50.

    Freshmen level physics classes have a ton of other majors in them, of course. It's needed for any kind of engineering, chemistry, and probably biology majors.
  12. Dec 5, 2009 #11
    I guess that everything I'm seeing makes sense. I mean as I mentioned, the Calculus Based Physics sequence here starts off with at most 30 students, and by the time the final rolls around, there will be about 15-20. So that would explain the ridiculously low numbers for the upper level. I guess I should have expected that. Was just curious how things went elsewhere.

    Thanks to all.
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