Campus News

My Word: Fla.’s Student-Faculty Ratios are Telling

From the Orlando Sentinel March 20, 2012|By Stanley D. Smith

With the pending cuts in higher education in Florida receiving a lot of attention, it is worth examining one important aspect of Florida universities: the student-faculty ratios. U.S. News & World Report provides these ratios for national universities.

I collected the ratios for the 65 national universities in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. The average ratio for the 57 non-Florida universities is 18.86 students per faculty member. The ratios for eight Florida universities from smallest to highest are Florida A&M University (20), University of Florida (21), Florida Atlantic University (21), Florida State University (22), University of West Florida (23), University of South Florida (28), Florida International University (28) and University of Central Florida (31).

The average for the Florida national universities is 24.25. Florida is providing only 78 percent of the faculty the other states are providing to produce a higher education. USF and FIU are providing 67 percent and UCF is providing 61 percent.

If you are a legislator voting for cuts to higher education, then you argue that Florida universities are more efficient than these other states and you will never raise taxes.

If you are a student, you know the “lower taxes or no new taxes” policy is causing your tuition (education taxes) to increase 15 percent per year, and you still have a hard time getting your classes.

If you are a university professor, then you know that fewer faculty members result in larger classes. You know that the contents of a university’s education, a degree, are less each year. For example, with larger classes, individual research projects or class presentations are less likely. The university education is likely to be a bunch of courses that students watch on their computers. The student may get the basics, but they will not get the other things that are more likely to make them competitive with students from the other states or other countries.

A legislator recently described the university education she wanted to see. I responded that her description sounded like it was a labor-intensive process built around smaller classes. She responded that I should get real; there were not going to be any more faculty members.

I argue that we, as citizens, should get real. You get what you pay for, and we are not providing much.

Stanley D. Smith of Oviedo is a professor of finance at the University of Central Florida.