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Figures Don’t Lie… #1: The S/F Ratio is Inaccurate

President Kim has now pointed several times to the evolution of the student:faculty ratio at the College as evidence of achievement by the outgoing administration. As a matter of statistical integrity, I wish that he would stop doing so.

The student:faculty ratio is neither an accurate measure of Dartmouth’s evolution as it has been presented by the administration (to be discussed today), nor even a valid statistic on its face (our topic for tomorrow). Here are U.S. News and World Report’s stats for Dartmouth for the last seventeen years:

Overcrowd.jpgDartmouth Student:Faculty Ratio

1993 11:1
1994 9:1
1995 9:1
1996 10:1
1997 10:1
1998 12:1
1999 10:1
2000 10:1
2001 9:1
2002 9:1
2003 9:1
2004 9:1
2005 9:1
2006 9:1
2007 8:1
2008 8:1
2009 8:1

Note: these figures were graciously verified for me by Heather Kim of the College’s Office of Institutional Research. (Bless her, she even caught an error that I had made in transcribing this information).

As you can see, the figures are all over the map. Regrettably, Provost Barry Scherr has refused my request to see the raw data that was sent to U.S. News (it is curious that data that is distributed by the College to the press can become confidential when asked for by an alumnus), but it is hard to understand how — when the size of the student body was relatively stable during this entire period — the ratio could change this much. How could the student:faculty ratio go from 9:1 in 1995 to 12:1 in 1998 (implying a drop in the size of the faculty of 25%), and then go back to 9:1 in 2001 (implying a faculty size increase of 33%).

On February 13, 2009, Scherr wrote in the D: “The Arts and Sciences faculty grew 15.5 percent, from 380 to 439 full-time equivalents, over the past decade. As a result, the student-faculty ratio has improved from 10-1 to 8-1.”

It should be obvious to anyone with basic arithmetical skills that these two sets of figures are inconsistent.

The AskDartmouth website also has a page up right now about the ratio, on which it makes the following statement: “Within the last ten years, about 40 new faculty members have been hired and the student-faculty ratio is now 8 to 1, down from 9 to 1 in 2002 and 12 to 1 in 1997.”

The stats are correct as regards U.S. News’s reporting of the ratio, but how could the faculty have increased by 50% in this period, as it would have had to do for the ratio to drop from 12:1 to 8:1?

Perhaps Provost Scherr can fill us all in on the correct calculation of the ratio over the past two decades, and then make sure that President Kim uses the proper numbers in the future. I’ll make a start of it for him: according to the Dartmouth Fact Book, in 1998/1999, there were 4,057 FTE undergraduates enrolled at the College, and 390 FTE faculty: therefore, the ratio was 10.4:1. In 2007-2008, there were 4147 undergrads, and 439 faculty members: the ratio was 9.5:1.

That’s a fairly long way from 8:1, but at least it’s a real number - though tomorrow we’ll discuss why it is essentially meaningless.

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