“Optimal” Faculty to Staff Ratio

An article in the Chronicle today reports on a study by two economists about the optimal faculty to staff ratio.  The study is focused on Research 1 and 2 public institutions, but I couldn’t stop myself from applying the simple math formula to a small liberal arts college, such as Swarthmore, to see what would happen.

We are actually freezing our employee data today, and so I don’t yet have current numbers, but based on last year’s data we had 944 employees – 699 full-time.  The study identifies the optimal ratio as 3 tenure-tack faculty to each full-time professional administrator.  Using IPEDS reporting definitions, we had 162 tenured and on-track faculty members last year, and 242 full-time professional administrators (Executive/ Administrative/ Managerial, and Other Professional).   That’s a conservative estimate of “professional administrators,” because it’s unclear to me from the paper which categories are included in the final equation.   All non-faculty staff are considered at different points in their modeling.

So if that 3 to 1 ratio were desirable here, we would need to add 564 tenure-track faculty.   I don’t know how the 242 administrators would manage all the new buildings and infrastructure we’d need.   And our student to faculty ratio would drop to about 2:1.   Alternately, we could get rid of about 188 professional administrators to drop their total to 54.   In that case our 162 faculty would have to start managing housing, administering grants, raising funds, supporting IT, doing IPEDS reporting, etc., in addition to all their regular responsibilities.  I’m sure they’d enjoy that.

Guess I’ll just have to wait until these researchers tackle this issue for liberal arts colleges.