Student Faculty Ratio – Finding the Perfect Class Size

September 17, 2021

Student Faculty Ratio – Finding the Perfect Class Size

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What is Student Faculty Ratio?

Prospective students researching colleges often encounter the phrase "student-to-faculty ratio." But what is a student-to-teacher ratio in college? The ratio represents the number of students compared to the number of college professors at an institution. Schools may also call this the student-to-professor ratio. Institutions factor in part-time students and college faculty when calculating student-to-professor ratios.

This ratio can shape a student's undergraduate experience. Learners should understand the student-to-faculty ratio at each of their top schools. This article explores data and information about the ideal student-to-faculty ratio for each learner.

What Does Student Faculty Ratio Mean?

A school's student-to-faculty ratio can provide useful information for prospective students. However, learners should also consider the school's teaching environment and undergraduate experience when choosing a school.

Many colleges use a low ratio as a selling point. A low ratio usually indicates smaller class sizes. However, that may not hold at schools with high numbers of research faculty. As a result, prospective students need to look beyond the ratio to understand the academic environment.

Smaller class sizes can lead to more personalized attention for students. Larger institutions and those with higher ratios generally offer more lecture-style classes. Smaller schools and private nonprofit institutions often report lower student-to-faculty ratios. Most liberal arts colleges prioritize a low ratio.

A high student-to-faculty ratio does not always mean that a school holds all classes in large lecture halls. Programs and departments may report lower ratios than the school as a whole. Also, class sizes change as students progress through their degrees. While large institutions may enroll hundreds of students in general education courses, upper-level major classes often have smaller class sizes.

What Is a Good Student Faculty Ratio?

When identifying a good student-to-faculty ratio, students should consider their preferred academic experience. Some students want to take classes in large lecture halls. Others prefer smaller classes with more focused attention from college faculty. This section introduces data about low, average, and high student-to-faculty ratios.

What Is a Low Student Faculty Ratio?

What is a small student-to-faculty ratio? According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the overall student-to-faculty ratio at degree-granting institutions was 14-to-1 in 2018. A ratio below that number may be considered low. Typically, private nonprofit colleges maintain lower student-to-faculty ratios than public schools. According to NCES data, public universities reported a 14-to-1 ratio in 2018, while private universities had a 10-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.

Private schools and small liberal arts colleges often report the lowest ratios. Williams College, Northwestern University, and Yale University have a 6-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, according to IPEDS data. Because of their high number of research professors, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology each report a 3-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.

Institutions often use a low ratio as a selling point to attract applicants. A low student-to-faculty ratio often translates to small class sizes and personalized attention from professors. Students at these schools may complete more supervised research projects. However, a small ratio does not guarantee small class sizes or individual attention. The number of college faculty members who teach courses also impacts the student experience.

What Is an Average Student Faculty Ratio?

In 2018, 1.5 million college professors worked in the United States, according to the NCES. The average student-to-faculty ratio for degree-granting U.S. institutions was 14-to-1. That number includes full-time and part-time professors, along with students with various enrollment statuses.

The average ratio varies by type of school. In 2018, private for-profit institutions reported a 22-to-1 ratio, according to the NCES. In contrast, public four-year institutions reported a student-to-faculty ratio about the same as the national average. Private nonprofit four-year schools had a 10-to-1 ratio.

Many state and mid-sized schools report average ratios. For example, according to IPEDS data, the University of Louisville and SUNY Buffalo State have a 14-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. Students at these schools take both seminar-style courses and large lecture classes. Depending on the size of the institution, undergraduates may take classes taught by graduate instructors.

What Is a High Student Faculty Ratio?

A student-to-faculty ratio that exceeds the national average of 14 students per faculty member is typically considered high. What colleges have the highest student-to-faculty ratios? Many large universities report higher ratios. For example, the University of Central Florida enrolls nearly 70,000 students and reports a 30-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, according to IPEDS data. But large schools do not always have high ratios. The University of Arizona enrolls nearly 45,000 students and has a 15-to-1 ratio.

Schools with high student-to-faculty ratios typically report larger class sizes. Courses at large schools may enroll more than 300 students. However, learners at schools with above-average student-to-faculty ratios may also attend small classes. At Oregon State University, which reports an 18-to-1 ratio, only 17% of courses enroll more than 100 students.

When evaluating colleges, prospective students can compare the number of learners and faculty members. However, applicants should also consider each school's class sizes, retention rate, and faculty-directed research project opportunities.

More Resources for Finding the Right College

College students should choose a school that fits their unique needs. Some students thrive in settings with low student-to-faculty ratios. Others prefer large institutions with more professors. The following resources can help learners find a college that fits their preferences.

Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University and earned tenure as a history professor at the University of Louisville. An award-winning historian and writer, Genevieve has published multiple scholarly articles and a book with the University of Chicago Press. She currently works as a freelance writer and consultant.

See articles by Genevieve

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