What is a Good Student-to-Faculty Ratio for U.S. Colleges?

Ideas of good student-to-faculty ratios vary around the world, but a good student-to-faculty ratio in U.S. Colleges and universities would meet or exceed the national average of 18 students per faculty member, calculated by the National Center for Educational Statistics. A student-to-faculty ratio is a simple calculation that determines how many faculty members are present on a college campus to teach students. Class sizes may vary, so even if the student-to-faculty ratio is very low, you could enroll in a large lecture class or required course with a higher number of students than average.

National Liberal Arts Colleges

U.S. News and World Report maintains comprehensive rankings of U.S. colleges and universities. Among them are the 222 national liberal arts colleges, which are known for smaller enrollments, more personalized education and individual attention. These schools averaged 11 students to every faculty member in 2016. Many of them have lower student-to-faculty ratios. Top-ranked Williams College had a ratio of 7 students to each faculty member, and most classes had enrollments of 20 students or fewer. Marlboro College in Vermont has a ratio of only 5 students to each faculty member.

National Universities

Universities are typically larger institutions than liberal arts colleges, and they have both undergraduate and graduate divisions, offering master's and doctoral degrees as well as bachelor's degrees. According to U.S. News and World Report, their average ratio was 16 students per each faculty member. Out of 310 nationally-ranked universities, #1 ranked Princeton stands out with a ratio of 5 students to each faculty member and 70 percent of classes with fewer than 20 members. Most other schools of Princeton's size have higher student to faculty ratios.

Schools With Lowest Ratios

Liberal arts colleges with low student/faculty ratios include Pomona College, Soka University, the University of Richmond, Skidmore College and Vassar College, all with ratios of 8 students to each faculty member. In addition to Princeton's outstanding ratio of 5 students per faculty member, the California Institute of Technology (CalTech) has a stunning ratio of only 3 students per faculty member. Harvard's student to faculty ratio is 7:1, while Yale boasts a 6:1 ratio.

Other Considerations

Many larger universities rely upon adjunct faculty or teaching assistants, so the astonishing faculty to student ratios seen at universities like Princeton and CalTech may not have the same benefit in providing individualized attention as full-time faculty members devoted to education at a small liberal arts college. The student/faculty ratio is just one dimension that will affect the benefits and effectiveness of a college education.

The number of faculty members devoted to teaching has traditionally been regarded as a good way to indicate whether or not a college or university will provide individual instruction to a student, or whether they will be a "little fish in a big pond" responsible for their own education. The national average of students per each faculty member is 16:1 according to the 2016 National Center for Educational Statistics report. Recent years have brought very low ratios to some of the country's best-known, most prestigious universities, like Princeton, Harvard, Yale and the University of Chicago and some of these universities now provide individualized education similarly to smaller liberal arts colleges.

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