How Important is “Student-Faculty Ratio” in a College or University?

Aside from the usual considerations in choosing colleges such as tuition fees, course and syllabus offerings, amenities, and distance, the student-faculty ratio should be included as part of one’s personal criteria. It is an important indicator of the learning environment of a particular university or institution, which could affect a student’s overall college experience.

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Depending on the country and region, regulations on student to faculty ratios may differ slightly. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 16:1 is recommended in the United States. In other words, an ideal American college class has 16 students per teacher. Some institutions even set the bar higher, and go for ratios as low as 10 to 15 students per teacher.

While a low student-faculty ratio adds to the university’s prestige, this statistical figure transcends a different realm from the student’s perspective. A lower student-faculty ratio usually means a better learning environment, increases social engagement within the learning group, focuses more on giving individualized attention (depending on the learning needs and pace of the students), and better allocation of resources (such as time and facilities). It is therefore assumed that the lower the ratio, the better the teaching process and outcomes.

Learning environment

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In objective evaluations of campus learning environments, a low student-to-faculty ratio is associated with a greater focus on student development. With smaller batches, students are more likely to shine in their own right and are therefore encouraged to do better, because professors are able to identify students individually. In turn, students get more opportunities to interact with their instructors. This kind of feedback-based environment makes for better results academically and keeps students on their toes.

As students generally don’t like competition, reduced class sizes are ideal as they translate to low competition for the professors’ time and attention, thereby reducing the risk of academic-induced stress. Students are also less likely to get lost in all the ramblings of traditional classes and have a lesser chance of getting distracted as long as their professors could easily see them – and that is very much possible with low student-to-faculty ratios!

Engagement

In an academic setting, a positive student-teacher relationship is important mainly because students work with their instructors as their thesis or dissertation supervisors. With this in mind, professors must be able to forge rapport and must be able to identify each and every student of their respective classes, and this may be hard to do if the interaction is limited to those sitting within close proximity of the instructor.

A low student-faculty ratio allows professors to dedicate more time to students in this respect. With smaller classes, professors can easily manage their students, with more time to engage with each student in order to address important questions or discuss possible points of improvement. Case in point: Professor A promptly replies to every student’s email in a small class unlike Professor B in the lecture- or workshop-type class of 60 who simply cannot respond to each individual message in a day.

Individualized Attention

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Psychologists contend that today, students adapt to different learning styles. In low student-faculty ratio settings, educators have more time to unlock their students’ hidden talents and potentials. This particularly applies to the concept of specialization, wherein scholars pay close attention to the challenging areas of a particular field of discipline, play a crucial role in skills development and self-discovery. Instructors are able to better facilitate remediation and accelerate the growth of each student in small classrooms.

Facilities

Student-faculty ratio also impacts students’ use of time, resources, and school facilities. In the hard sciences, for example, proper allocation of tools and facilities such as state-of-the-art microscopes for each laboratory apprentice guarantees better overall learning experience during hands-on laboratory sessions. When students are given adequate learning space and enough tools at their disposal (without having to make-do), their learning experiences will be better. Additionally, when they are able to sit in a room that’s not cramped up to the walls, they will feel more comfortable, thus, it will improve the retention rates of students.

Other Considerations

Despite the benefits mentioned, the student-faculty ratio is not the only factor that constitutes a good learning environment. It should be substantiated by, among other things, solid faculty credentials.

Methodology

The process for coming up with a student-faculty ratio isn’t the same for all universities and there are limitations to the methodology as well. For one, part-time students may or may not be included in some classes, and they may be forced to take lighter course loads to accommodate work.

A low ratio may be because of low enrollment rates due to low demand for certain classes. This may also hinge on the so-called “practicality” of a class, and its overall relevance to the future careers of students. On the other hand, if it lacks novelty and appeal, professors would expect a smaller class. Other factors that limit the student-faculty ratio include calamities and economic depression that affect the academic workforce.

Faculty employment status

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Whether the student-faculty ratio should take into account faculty members who work full-time only is still a gray area. Some argue that while instructors who work on an irregular basis are equally qualified as the full-time staff, they diversify the workforce.

Faculty workload

Of course, this is one of the most important factors which also contribute to a good learning environment. Members of the faculty should be given reasonable amounts of work at a time to be able to monitor their students better. With a balanced course load, professors will able to effectively evaluate their lesson plans from time to time, improving the quality of their courses in general.

Flexibility and more options for learning

Especially in circumstances where classroom instruction is not possible, online classes and video conferencing options are offered by most schools in order to augment learning gaps and improve continuity following the syllabus. This may also contribute to the decreasing number of enrollment rates in brick-and-mortar classes.

While an ideal student-to-teacher ratio is recommended in both brick-and-mortar and online college classes, the opposite does not always mean poor results. There are universities with high student-to-teacher ratios that boast of impressive teaching methods and excellent output.