Student to Faculty Ratios: Should they be part of your college rankings?

student in classThe short answer is yes.

The long answer is less definitive and has to do with why Student to Faculty ratios are important and if they are always important. In other words, it depends.  Fun, fun, fun.

If you just want to go with the short answer, take a peek at the graph below.

student faculty ratio and graduation rates

The data in the above graph is from the DIY College Search Spreadsheet which is based on IPEDS data from the fall of 2013-14. A Student to Faculty ratio below 15 is better but there probably isn’t much difference between 15 and 19. So far all of you interested in the short answer, you can now safely sit in college information sessions and know just how wonderful the school’s low student to faculty ratio actually is.

But is it really important in deciding on a college?

The US News Best College Rankings weights Student to Faculty ratio 5% in calculating rank. I’m not sure if you should give more than this or not. The reason is that a lower ratio is also associated with:

  • Smaller colleges
  • Schools that cost more to attend
  • Colleges that spend more money on instruction
  • Higher SAT/ACT scores
  • Private schools

And of course, any of these factors may actually be more responsible for higher graduation rates.

Furthermore, schools with the same Student to Faculty ratios aren’t automatically similar in other areas. Of the 157 schools with a ratio of 14, 34 had a four-year graduation rate greater than 50% and 47 had a graduation rate of 25% or less. The majority of the schools (136) had less than 5,000 full-time undergraduates but six had over 10,000. The amount spent on instruction per student ranged from just over $2,000 to over $22,000.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that the Student to Faculty Ratio isn’t of much value by itself in comparing colleges. A high value should make you pay attention to other aspects of the university to better gauge its significance. But otherwise, there are so many other factors that vary despite similar student to faculty ratios, it might not even deserve the five percent given to it by the US News College Rankings.

If you really want some idea of class size, check out the college course schedule on the internet. Most colleges allow visitors to view the course schedule which will often include the number of seats available in each class.

I find it very annoying when schools don’t make this information easily accessible. They often require you to get a visitor id which makes me wonder why won’t they just post the information? Some schools won’t list the number of seats available for public view, again, why not? Do they think students don’t know that there will be large, introductory, lecture hall courses?

The following is a list of schools and their course schedule status.

Schools that don’t allow public viewing of course schedule:

Harvard
Dartmouth College

Schools that don’t provide class size information:

Cal Tech (I really can’t see this being an issue here but still)
MIT

Stanford

Yale

Schools with course information publicly available:

Brown University
Columbia University

Duke University

Northwestern University

Princeton

University of Chicago

University of Pennsylvania

Looking at class schedules can be especially useful to get an idea of the size of upper division classes. Smaller upper division classes indicate that you’ll have an opportunity to receive more personal attention in your actual major. This is the area where knowing the Student to Faculty ratio for the specific departments would be very useful.

Ultimately, the idea behind the Student to Faculty ratio is very important-will you have the opportunity for individual attention from your professor? This isn’t just because it can affect your chances of graduating, but also affects the quality of your experience and ability to get faculty recommendations.

So when you’re creating your own college rankings, pay attention to the Student to Faculty ratio. But use it as the starting point in determining class size, not the final statement on the situation.

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