SFR and Academic Planning

SFR (Student-Faculty Ratio) is the most important statistic in public higher education, since it is the fulcrum around which the budgeting process revolves. Defined as the number of full-time equivalent students to full-time equivalent faculty (FTES/FTEF), it is a crude measure of average class size and of the availability of faculty for extracurricular advising and mentoring. Both of these variables are widely recognized as critical to effective pedagogy.

Of course, there is always a certain arbitrariness in citing exact SFR figures. It is common practice in higher education to mount very large classes in order to make very small classes possible. President Armiñana has referred to this as "cross-subsidization." Frequently, the practice is to cluster the larger classes in the lower division in order to mount smaller classes at the upper division and graduate level. The hierarchy progresses from very large G.E. classes to moderate size classes in the major to small, interactive graduate seminars. Furthermore, innovative pedagogies, including web-based instruction and collaborative learning models, have the potential to increase the effectiveness of some types of large classes.

However, the pyramidal model of allocating SFR is not appropriate for a liberal arts and sciences curriculum. Interactive pedagogy, along with a core of traditional humanities, science, and social science disciplines, is widely recognized as particularly critical to the tradition of liberal arts education. (For example, at Reed College, the centrality of seminar-based instruction is a key recruiting point, and campus mythology holds that the most important learning takes place in intimate student-faculty exchanges in the coffee shop.) If memory serves, research suggests that the optimum size for a seminar class is 15, and I would estimate a comparable optimal advising ratio (the ratio of majors to advisers, which in the CSU means tenured and tenure-track faculty).

There are technical artifacts created by the fact that the SFR is calculated in different ways in different reports. Thus it is important to examine the assumptions embedded in each particular calculation of the statistic. In current CSU reports, the FTEF calculation is based only on that portion of faculty workload assigned to direct instruction. That calculation approximates average class size, but it ignores the requirement for permanent faculty to engage in advising, curriculum design and management, and other aspects of university and community service, as well as research. Other reports have calculated the ratio of FTES (full time equivalent students) to FTEF (full time equivalent faculty) using FTES = 15 SCU (student credit units), while FTEF = 12 WTU (weighted teaching unit). In this calculation, the average class size would be about 25% larger than the SFR if all instruction is carried out by permanent faculty and no assigned time is included in the calculation. (SFR of 20:1 = class size of 25.) In this calculation, the use of lecturers reduces the average class size but increases the advising ratio. (I am defining the advising ratio as the average number of individual students with whom each tenured/tenure track faculty member is expected to establish an advising/mentoring relationship.)

However, the crucial variables are not actually the average class size, but rather the availability of adequate numbers of seminars at critical points in a student's intellectual development, as well as adequate advising. Furthermore, in addition to the importance of seminars and advising, it is also necessary to take into account the need for hand-on instruction in areas such as composition and laboratory classes. Whereas increased flexibility and effectiveness can be gained by innovative pedagogies--including those made possible by technology--the bottom line remains, in Mark Hopkins' metaphor, the relationship between the student at one end of a log and the professor-mentor at the other.

Both of these pedagogical factors are the subject of study in some depth by EPC, SAC, and APC in the current academic year. While the proposal by EPC for a comprehensive study of advising and mentoring, endorsed by the Provost, was referred to SAC by the Senate, there was considerable support for the principle of such a study in the Senate.

I do not want to try to anticipate in any detail what the outcome of these studies will be. However, I have some very schematic thoughts about how a curriculum based on the prevailing SFR for small liberal arts campuses in the CSU--that is, 18:1--might be structured. The most crucial points for the integrative experience of seminar interaction are at the beginning and the end of a student's college education, that is the freshman and senior years. The most critical periods for mentoring are the freshman year transition and the major. The need for small classes and mentoring in these critical areas could be offset by larger classes in other areas of the curriculum, particularly sophomore-junior GE. Along with the creative use of instructional technology, recent research on interactive pedagogy in large classes could be brought to bear in creating highly effective learning experiences in this area of the curriculum. The use of student affairs professionals and peer mentors is already enhancing the mentoring experience of freshmen in the areas of the freshman seminar and campus life. This model could be extended to serving sophomores and transfer students.

In grossly oversimplified terms, the model could look something like this:

 

Class

FTES

FTEF

SFR

Avg. Class Size

Fresh

1500

10

15

19

Soph

1500

58

33

41

Junior

1500

75

20

25

Senior

1500

10

15

19

Total

6000

333

18

23

These are ballpark figures. Exact allocation of SFR is always somewhat arbitrary, but experience and comparative data suggest that these estimates are realistic. Another analysis, based on School of Social Sciences data, evaluates the consequences of assuming the desirability of a maximum SFR for upper division classes (majors) of 20:1 and for lower division (G.E.) classes of 35:1, as well as an advising ratio of 20:1 for majors. The results, which are summarized in Tables 1-3, indicate that the total number of positions needed to bring the school into conformity with these criteria (and taking nothing away from other programs) would require 11.34 new positions. At $50,000 per position, the total cost would be $567,000. This is in relation to 76.44 total faculty positions and a faculty salary budget of $4,644,588 for the School. It seems likely that the figures for the School of Arts and Humanities would be comparable, and for the other Schools would be somewhat less. One conclusion of this analysis is that relatively small changes in SFR and faculty staffing numbers can translate into relatively large dollar amounts.

I should emphasize that I am not presenting these figures as the most desirable outcome, only as a model for thinking systemically about the distribution of SFRs. The desired outcome would be an excellent liberal arts curriculum that competes effectively with our reference group of other small liberal arts campuses in the CSU, and hopefully with our COPLAC reference group as well. The key to success is to have a comparable level of resources per student, and then to use those resources more effectively than other schools. According to the data presented by Steve Orlick, a level of resources comparable to a reference of other CSU liberal arts campuses would result in approximately 50 additional faculty positions. I believe that if we had those additional positions, our faculty could use them to create an exceptional public liberal arts and sciences curriculum.

I am looking forward to the results of our investigation of these issues in the coming year, as I believe that they can give the university a common understanding of the basic resources needed to effectively carry out our mission as a public liberal arts and sciences university. This, in turn, should allow us to effectively address the concerns that have been raised by WASC, as well as many lingering concerns of the faculty.

 

--Art Warmoth

7/5/02
Revised 12/1/02


Table 1. Faculty needed to achieve lower division SFR of 35:1

 

 

FTES

 

FTEF

actual

 

SFR

 

FTEF

needed

 

New Pos. Needed

 

Anthro

 

33.70

 

.90

 

37.29

 

.96

 

.06

 

ENSP

 

50.07

 

.60

 

85.78

 

1.43

 

.83

 

Geography

 

36.17

 

.67

 

53.76

 

1.03

 

.36

 

History

 

142.20

 

2.61

 

54.53

 

4.06

 

1.45

 

Pol Sci

 

105.07

 

2.26

 

46.70

 

3.00

 

.74

 

Psych

 

55.50

 

1.07

 

55.80

 

1.59

 

.52

 

WGS

 

8.70

 

.20

 

43.50

 

.26

 

.06

 

 

Total new faculty positions needed to achieve a maximum lower division SFR of 35:1 in the School of Social Sciences is 4.02.

 

Table 2. Faculty needed to achieve upper division SFR of 20:1

 

 

FTES

 

FTEF

actual

 

SFR

 

FTEF

needed

 

New Pos. Needed

 

CJA

 

84.23

 

3.56

 

23.72

 

4.21

 

.65

 

LS Ukiah

 

34.20

 

1.07

 

23.53

 

1.71

 

.64

 

Psych

 

317.57

 

14.37

 

22.10

 

15.88

 

1.51

Total new faculty positions needed to achieve a maximum SFR of 20:1 for majors in the School of Social Sciences is 2.8.

 

Table 3. Faculty needed to achieve advising ratio of 20:1

 

 

Annual

Majors

 

TT

Faculty

 

Advising

Ratio

 

Advisers

Needed

 

New Advisers Needed

 

÷ 5 = FTEF

Needed

 

CJA

 

133.5

 

4.00

 

33.38

 

6.68

 

2.68

 

.54

 

ENSP

 

163

 

6.50

 

25.08

 

8.15

 

1.65

 

.33

 

History

 

203.5

 

9.5

 

21.42

 

10.18

 

.68

 

.14

 

Hum Dev

 

41.5

 

.50

 

83.00

 

2.08

 

1.58

 

.32

 

LS Ukiah

 

64

 

1.0

 

64.00

 

3.20

 

2.20

 

.44

 

Psych

 

441

 

14

 

31.50

 

22.05

 

8.05

 

1.61

 

Sociology

 

224

 

5.5

 

40.73

 

11.20

 

5.7

 

1.14

Total new faculty positions needed to achieve a maximum advising ratio of 20:1 in the School of Social Sciences is 4.52.

 

General Education positions needed: 4.02

Major positions needed: 7.32

Total positions needed: 11.34 @ $50,000 = $567,000

 

12/1/02