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The Faculty-to-Student Ratio: Admissions Expert Says Look Deeper

Educational consultant Mark Montgomery goes to Trinity University to advise students looking for the best fit college not to take a school’s stated faculty-to-student ratio for granted. Find out exactly what the statistic means and how the university arrived at it.

Today I’m on the campus of Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. I’ve had a really interesting and fun-filled, active day here on the campus, and one of the things was a question-and-answer session with an admissions officer, and one of the parents attending asked a question about, “What’s the faculty-to-student ratio?” And I was really pleased at the candor of the admissions officer to talk about the slipperiness of that statistic. But here at Trinity, it’s a very clear nine to one, and they are very honest about how they do the accounting. They look at only the full-time faculty that are offering classes here at the university and then they look at the number of students and do the little math problem, division problem, and come up with nine to one. That is a fantastic number and that is indicative of the fact that most of the classes here at Trinity are between 15 and 25 students.

Now, if you compare that same faculty-to-student ratio to a much larger university, say, University of Pennsylvania where it’s also nine to one, the experience of the student at the University of Pennsylvania is vastly different because there are going to be classes that every student takes that are going to be much larger. So each individual student’s experience at the University of Pennsylvania will probably include a number of classes, maybe even half of the classes, that are well over that 25 student mark. So two things, number one, Trinity is very careful about how they calculate that student-to-faculty ratio; and secondly, it actually does mean what people assume it means, that it’s an intimate educational experience.

I tend not to pay too much attention to that student-to-faculty ratio because of the slipperiness of the statistic. What you’re really looking for when you’re thinking about that as an indicator of the student experience, what you’re trying to get is whether or not it’s an intimate student experience. The learning environment is small and intimate and you’re having that interaction with your professor.

Go beyond the statistic. Find out, number one, what’s the methodology for calculating that ratio; second, what does it really mean from a student’s perspective? That’s when you’re really going to have information you can use in deciding what college is right for you.

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