Many students want to know what kind of personal attention they'll get at a given institution, and the standard metric is the student-to-faculty ratio. However, this metric can be a bit misleading because the ratio may misrepresent the value of a largely part-time work force. Generally, full-time faculty are on campus and available, and most curricular development efforts that keep courses current and interconnected will be led by full-time faculty.
The primary collector of the student-faculty metric is IPEDS. They calculate this number as the ratio of full-time-equivalent (FTE) undergraduate students and FTE instructional staff not teaching in graduate or professional programs. They arrive at the FTE for each by adding all of the full-time individuals and 1/3 of the part-time individuals. This ratio would count an institution with 9 part-time-instructors as equivalent to one with 3 full-time-instructors.
While the traditional student-to-faculty ratio certainly has value, we offer a new value as a comparison: we calculate the ratio of all FTE students, both graduate and undergraduate, to all full-time instructional staff. We found that some schools moved from a ratio in the teens to a ratio that was well over 100, suggesting that a student interested in such a program should look carefully at what personal attention and curricular strength is truly present. This ratio ignores any part-time instructional staff.
We worried that the standard student-to-faculty ratio did not reflect the inherent value of full-time instructor interactions with students. However, a drawback with our new ratio is that we are combining undergraduate and graduate education. Research universities may have an much lower ratio than other types of institutions because the student-to-teacher ratio is much smaller at the graduate level. We suggest that it's worth carefully investigating the attention a freshman receives versus what a graduate student receives at larger universities.
We believe both metrics can be an important part of your college decision.