Tag Archives: studentToFacultyRatio

CollegeQandA asks: Why are my class sizes so big in my first and second years in college?

Welcome to BIG 101

“In this class you will have three multiple choice exams.  You will need to read the text book and learn the material from this lecture.  If you are having problems, then talk to your assigned TA.  You will find your assigned TA on the online course system.  Exam one is in four weeks, so let’s begin…”, said some professor in my imaginary past.  The reason it’s imaginary is because I don’t remember one thing a professor said to me in my big classes (150+), which included physics, chemistry, computer science, calculus, economics, and linear algebra.  Not one useful word.

So, why are my classes large?

bees in bee hive
Pack those classes full

Well, you might learn this in economics if you pay attention, but one factor is economies of scale.  First, take a look at one of the metrics reported by your university – student to faculty ratio.  The main factor here is faculty are paid employees and need to be hired, retained, and compensated – so they cost money.  For a university to keep the student to faculty ratio low they can do a number of things:

  • Charge a lot for tuition
  • Have another revenue source that compensates there professors this for example donations to the endowment
  • Higher adjuncts and part-time instructors
  • Increase how many courses professors teach
  • Have big classes for early introductory courses taught by instructors

So, first beware of the metric student to faculty ratio as an indicator of small classes or an indicator of whether you’ll be on a first name basis with your professors.

By making a class large, a university can bring in significant tuition dollars at the cost of one teacher and some cheap teaching assistants.  Then they can let their star research faculty and senior members teach small senior classes.  Now, the metric averages to a good number.

Is the quality of learning worse in big classes?

That depends – probably.  Introductory courses have been taught for a long time, there are hundreds of textbooks, tested methods, online material, and other related ideas to how to effectively teach a big class.  Have we measured to see if there is a difference?   We have done many studies, but I would argue from the perspective of large populations of students the overall impact on learning is small.  Therefore, the economical benefit is justifiable.

However, you as the individual can not stand for this above argument.  Pick the learning environment that is best for you, and you should take a look at actual class sizes at your potential universities to get a true picture of what it will be like for you.


photo credit: nest via photopin (license)


Question – How should I use college rankings – Money’s article “Special Report: Best College Values 2015” ?

This morning I got my copy of Money (note, the only reason I get this magazine is was part of a deal to get the Economist).  In this months magazine there is an article on the best college values for 2015: Special Report: Best College Values 2015.  I’ll talk to the idea of rankings and ratings.

Rankings and ratings are by far, the easiest way to figure out whether something is better than something else based on a system of measurement.  However, rankings are created by joining together a number of numbers (metrics), and the real question about a particular ranking for a given system is are those ratings relevant to what you are interested in?  When I was picking colleges, we used Maclaen’s (a Canadian magazine), and I remember wondering why the number of books in the library mattered to my undergraduate education (that metric is no longer used).  Sure there might be some indirect learning value to the number of books in the library, but should that have been a key metric in the ranking?

In the Money article, there are some interesting categories.  The tuition price and potential financial aid can be very important to some people, but they left out the difference between in- and out- of state differences.  The category “early career earnings” is biased to schools that focus primarily on engineering and technology.   For both “value added grade” and “career services” these are based on a letter grade.  This means there is a rubric or criteria definition that is used to categorize a university in a grade.  In all, I think the rankings provides you with some numbers that you might consider when picking schools to apply for.

The second lesson for looking at rankings is to look into how each category is defined and calculated.  In the case of the number of books, what was the count if there were duplicate books?  In this article, quality of education is based on areas such graduation rates, student-to-faculty ratio, and RateMyProffessor grades.  What do these metrics reflect and can they be manipulated?  The answer is it’s hard to say for your individual case and, yes, the stats can and are manipulated.  For example, here are some ideas on manipulating the student to faculty ration.

So how can you use these ratings?  Well, these numbers and rankings should be part of the information you collect to make your decision.  If anything, use the bottom of the list as a warning that those particular schools might have problems, but check if the real reason they are at the bottom is meaningful to your situation.  The university I work at, Miami University, is ranked/tied at 171st.  Would I recommend Miami over any of the higher ranked schools?  Yes.  If you live in Ohio, the major you want to pursue is available, and you’re interested in active early engagement with professors and early exposure to research, then yes.