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Am J Pharm Educ. 2010 October 11; 74(8): 138.
PMCID: PMC2987278

The Impact of Student-Faculty Ratio on Pharmacy Faculty Scholarship

Abstract

Objective

To determine the relationship and impact of student-faculty ratio on scholarship of pharmacy faculty members.

Methods

The number and rank of faculty members, pharmacy program characteristics, and faculty productivity data were collected to determine the impact of student-faculty ratio on faculty scholarship.

Results

Faculty scholarship was not predicted by student-faculty ratio. Factors impacting positively on faculty productivity included National Institutes of Health funding; presence of clinical associate professors, instructors, and lecturers; and programs located in public universities.

Conclusions

Faculty productivity is not related to the student-faculty ratio, wherein more faculty members and fewer students equates to increased scholarship. However, public universities may have different infrastructures which are associated with greater academic productivity compared to private institutions. Additionally, utilizing instructors and clinical or nontenure-track faculty members can significantly increase scholarship among faculty members.

Keywords: pharmacy faculty, scholarship, student-faculty ratio, productivity

INTRODUCTION

Since the 2003-2004 academic year, over 20 new colleges and schools of pharmacy were established in the United States. Additionally, many existing programs transitioned from a bachelor of science degree to a doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) entry-level program as the first professional degree and concomitantly increased class size. As a result, the number of pharmacy students enrolled in a pharmacy college or school has increased by approximately 47% in this timeframe. However, the number of pharmacy faculty members has increased only 37% during the same time period, thereby potentially increasing the student-faculty ratio in some pharmacy programs.1

The Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) Accreditation Standards and Guidelines for the Professional Program in Pharmacy does not mandate explicitly a specific student-faculty ratio, but requires the college/school to “have a sufficient number of qualified full-time faculty and staff to effectively deliver and evaluate the professional degree program, while providing adequate time for faculty development, research, and other scholarly activities, service, and pharmacy practice.”2 However, the standard further states the student-faculty ratio should be “commensurate with the averages of institutions of similar mission and size.” Additionally, the ACPE standard on faculty scholarship advocates that pharmacy faculty members “should generate and disseminate knowledge through scholarship,” which may include original research in scientific and educational literature, review articles, book publications, and procurement of extramural funding.2 Currently, ACPE standards do not provide a quantitative minimum for these activities per institution nor per individual faculty member.

A large increase in the student body, without a similar increase in the number of faculty members, results in a higher student-faculty ratio. To what extent this may contribute to faculty members becoming laden with additional teaching (eg, classroom, laboratory, experiential) and administrative responsibilities is not known. If these additional demands become excessive, the time commitment to scholarship may be decreased or eliminated.3,4 The objective of this study was to determine the relationship and impact of student-faculty ratio on scholarship of pharmacy faculty members.

METHODS

Data were retrieved from various sources. The number and rank of faculty members (including full-time, part-time, and adjunct teaching) was obtained from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) Faculty Roster for 2006-2007.5 Faculty members were classified based on their academic rank. Persons with administrative titles only (eg, director of student affairs), assistant lecturers, and assistant instructors were not included in the total faculty. The type of institution (public or private), and ACPE accreditation status (accredited, non-accredited, probation) were obtained from the ACPE, American College of Clinical Pharmacy (ACCP), and/or individual pharmacy program Web sites. The number of students enrolled was obtained from the AACP Institutional Research Report Series, Profile of Pharmacy Students.6 Only the total student enrollment for the first-professional PharmD program was included. Publication rate was determined by searching PubMed for articles cited from January 1, 2007, through December 31, 2007, using the official name of the pharmacy institution. Publications were also divided into research and review publications by the PubMed search engine. The search results were examined individually and aberrant results were removed. Data regarding extramural funding to pharmacy institutions from the National Institutes of Health and from non-National Institutes of Health (NIH) Federal Agencies, foundations, and association awards for 2007 were obtained from AACP data.7 Only pharmacy programs that had graduated at least 1 first-professional PharmD degree class were included in the study.

The data were entered into an Excel spreadsheet and double-checked for accuracy. Any inaccuracy was rechecked by a third author. Data were subsequently imported into the program NCSS (V 7.1.14, NCSS, Kaysville, UT) for statistical analysis. Upon initial inspection of the data, we found that some variables were not distributed normally; therefore, a natural log transformation was applied to normalize student-faculty ratio and NIH funding. Scholarship, the dependent variable, was defined as the annual publication rate per faculty member as defined by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) (Appendix 1). Many colleges/schools of pharmacy employ faculty classifications not included in the AAUP definition (eg, instructor). We defined a second category (AAUP PLUS) to include faculty members with clinical titles, instructor, lecturer, and emeritus level not included in the AAUP definition (Appendix 2). Scholarship was defined alternately as the annual publication rate per AAUP PLUS faculty member. We also examined the research publication rate with scholarship defined as the annual research publication rate per AAUP or AAUP PLUS faculty member. To examine the use of student-faculty ratio in predicting scholarship (AAUP and AAUP PLUS), we subjected these data to a receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analysis, using the empirical method and the following cut-point criterion for scholarship: AAUP publication rate of 0.87 publications per year (50th percentile); AAUP publication rate of 1.8 publications per year (75th percentile); AAUP research publication rate of 0.49 publications per year (50th percentile); AAUP research publication rate of 1.0 publications per year (75th percentile); AAUP PLUS publication rate of 0.6 publications per year (50th percentile); AAUP PLUS publication rate of 1.2 publications per year (75th percentile); AAUP PLUS research publication rate 0.34 publications per year (50th percentile); and AAUP PLUS research publication rate of 0.67 publications per year (75th percentile).

Last, logistic regression analysis was used to assess the relationship of other variables to scholarship. Publication rate was transformed into a binary variable using the 50th percentile of the publication rate as the cut point. No variable selection routines were employed to examine the odds ratios of all variables, even if not significant. All variables with a p value < 0.2 were reported.

RESULTS

Data from 103 colleges/schools of pharmacy were retrieved. Fourteen had not graduated a class at the time of writing and were therefore excluded from further analysis. Additionally, the University of South Carolina and the Medical University of South Carolina were excluded because the faculty members from the 2 universities made up 1 college of pharmacy during the study period. Therefore, 87 colleges/schools were available for analysis. Basic demographics of the colleges/schools included in the analysis are shown in Appendix 3. The median, mean, and standard deviations for student-faculty ratio are reported in Table Table11.

Table 1
Student-faculty Ratios for all Programs and for Public and Private Institutions

Receiver operating characteristics analysis of the AAUP cohort of faculty members demonstrates that there is no association between student-faculty ratio and scholarship. The ROC analysis of the AAUP PLUS cohort for all publications does show moderate predictive ability for scholarship at the 75th percentile with an AUC of 0.63, (p = 0.02).

Tables Tables22 through through55 exhibit the results of the logistic regression analysis on the dependent variable “publications” or “research publications” per “all faculty members as defined by AAUP” or “AAUP PLUS” (publication rate). The continuous dependent variable was converted into a binary variable where 1 represents “scholarship” (or scholarly colleges/schools) and 0 represents “lack of scholarship” (or non-scholarly colleges/schools), using the 50th percentile cut point of the publication rate data as stated above. The reference group in all logistic analyses is 0 for colleges/schools displaying a “lack of scholarship.”

Table 2
Logistic Regression Analysis of Publication Rate per AAUP Faculty Member
Table 5
Logistic Regression Analysis of Research Publication Rate per AAUP PLUS Faculty Member

AAUP Faculty

Using the cut point of 0.87 publications per year (1 publication per faculty member per 1.14 years), NIH funding was found to be the strongest predictive factor on publication rates and scholarship. Our model predicts $50,000 of NIH funding increases the level of scholarship 1.2- fold more in a scholarly college/school than in a non-scholarly member of the academy. Public versus private status of the institution also predicted scholarship, whereas public colleges/schools published 1.6-fold more than private colleges/schools (p = 0.12). The student-faculty ratio had a moderate effect in decreasing scholarship. A student-faculty ratio increase of 1 resulted in a decreased scholarship of 7%.

The logistic model for AAUP faculty and research scholarship is reported in Table Table3.3. Public colleges/schools are more scholarly according to our model, publishing twice the rate of research publications as private colleges/schools (p = 0.01). NIH funding was the only other positive predictor of research publication rates, with the effect identical to that reported for the all publications model above. Negative effects on research scholarship were significant for full-time professors (p = 0.055).

Table 3
Logistic Regression Analysis of Research Publication Rate per AAUP Faculty Member

AAUP PLUS Faculty

Table Table44 demonstrates the differences between scholarly colleges/schools and non-scholarly colleges/schools using the publication rate of AAUP PLUS faculty members. Clinical associate professors, lecturers, and instructors appear in the model as having positive effects on scholarship. The presence of 1 full-time equivalent (FTE) clinical associate professor increases scholarship by 90%. National Institutes of Health funding and public versus private colleges/schools appear in the model with a similar effect seen in the AAUP-only models. Professors and student-faculty ratio had negative effects on scholarship, with effects similar to those seen in the AAUP-only model.

Table 4
Logistic Regression Analysis of Publication Rate per AAUP PLUS Faculty Member

Table Table55 demonstrates the differences between scholarly colleges/schools and non-scholarly colleges/schools using the research publication rate of AAUP PLUS faculty. Instructors and lecturers had positive effects on research scholarship, along with public versus private and NIH funding. Professors, assistant professors, and the student-faculty ratio had negative effects on scholarship.

DISCUSSION

The search for meaningful productivity metrics in academia has been ongoing. We decided to employ ROC and logistic regression analysis to examine the capability of student-faculty ratio to predict scholarship. According to the ROC analysis, student-faculty ratio was not useful as a predictor of faculty scholarship at the 50th or 75th percentile of publications or research publications when faculty is defined by the AAUP definition. The area under the empirical ROC in this cohort was 0.54, which is considered a “D” in a traditional grading system and moreover was not significantly different from 0.5.8 Consequently, it is not better than a flip of a coin for predicting scholarship. The AAUP PLUS cohort of faculty members improves the predictive ability of student-faculty ratio for scholarship; however the improvement is not great with the area under the empirical ROC of 0.64. Nonetheless, the extra faculty classifications included in the AAUP PLUS appeared to have a greater impact on scholarship than traditional faculty members' roles.

When evaluated in the logistic regression model, clinical associate professor, instructor, and lecturer faculty members consistently appeared as an important factor in scholarly institutions. In the all publications regression model, clinical associate faculty members had a significant impact on increasing publications, however they did not appear in the research publications model. This is most likely attributed to nontenure-track faculty members producing more scholarship of integration rather than scholarship of discovery. As indicated in our analysis, the addition of 1 clinical associate professor increased scholarship by 90%. The nontenure-track clinical faculty members themselves may not have been responsible directly for the increase in publications. However, because clinical faculty members typically have a larger teaching role, tenure-track faculty members may be more able to devote time to research.

Instructors and lecturers, if implemented appropriately, can unload significantly the teaching and administrative responsibilities of faculty members (eg, grading, examination proctoring). Typically, instructors have no scholarship requirements and can be assigned labor-intensive teaching tasks, such as small group workshops, laboratory practice courses, and facilitation. The method by which instructors are incorporated into the program's teaching needs determines their level of effectiveness and ultimately the collective productivity of a college/school.

One of the predictors of scholarship that appears in most versions of the models is the difference between private and public institutions. Student-faculty ratios are significantly lower in public colleges/schools versus private colleges/schools (p < 0.001). Within public schools, the student-faculty ratio for the AAUP is also different than the student-faculty ratio for the AAUP PLUS. Public schools appear to be hiring enough instructors to impact significantly the student-faculty ratio. For private colleges/schools, the student-faculty ratio for AAUP and the AAUP PLUS is not different, indicating they do not employ enough instructors to impact the student-faculty ratio. A previous study found similar differences in student-faculty ratio in public versus private programs.9 Another explanation for the presence of private versus public institution impact on scholarship may be a result of funding strategies of public institutions. Public universities are funded through tuition and state appropriations and rely heavily on research support. Although the funding for specific research does not go directly to the university, the finance and administration fees (F&A costs or “indirect costs”), which can be as high as 50% of the funded grant, often pay a substantial portion of building maintenance and other administrative costs.

Although the presence of a doctor of philosophy (PhD) was not analyzed in our models, such programs also may contribute to the overall productivity of a college/school. Ninety-one percent of public programs studied had at least 1 PhD program, whereas only 30% of private programs did.9 Colleges/schools of pharmacy with a PhD program most likely have additional personnel for support of scholarly activities, such as graduate assistants, teaching assistants, postdoctoral trainees, or laboratory technicians. Some, but not all, may have been excluded from the AACP Roster and thus were not included in this analysis. However, using these personnel lessens the teaching responsibilities and maximizes research opportunities for pharmacy faculty members.

The combination of NIH funding and PhD programs may define some universities as a “Research I” institution. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching classifies universities as “Research I” when they meet the following criteria: (1) offer a full range of baccalaureate programs; (2) are committed to graduate education through the doctorate; (3) give high priority to research; (4) award 50 or more doctoral degrees each year; and (5) receive $40 million or more annually in federal support.10 Many of the public universities in our study are classified as Research I universities, whereas none of the private institutions meet these criteria. These basic differences in the mission of the university explain the difference in scholarship between public and private institutions. Tenure and promotion requirements may differ between research and teaching universities. Research universities may require a specific amount of extramural funding for promotion and tenure, whereas teaching institutions may require evidence of excellence in teaching. Research I universities may offer competitive start-up incentives and intramural funding to assist in the faculty development of a research program, which may not be available at a teaching-intensive university. Such incentives may attract faculty members with more training in research methodologies and publishing. Additionally, once a faculty member receives extramural funding, his/her time may be protected to focus on research. Our results are consistent with a previous study which found a higher number of publications (scholarship) in public versus private institutions.11

Sources of data used in the study had limitations. Using the ACCP Faculty Roster may be inaccurate or not inclusive of all faculty members, and the roster may not be consistent among colleges/schools. For example, some colleges/schools list adjunct faculty members, instructors, residents, and fellows, whereas other colleges/schools do not. It is important to take into account the time adjunct faculty members, instructors, residents, and fellows teach in establishing a more systematic student-faculty ratio. Calculating student-faculty ratios is controversial because of the lack of consistent definitions in how to count appropriately full-time equivalent (FTE) faculty members involved with teaching, and how to determine an FTE student. The FTE faculty question has been addressed by the US Department of Education in the common data set initiative (Appendix 1). In one study, the student-faculty ratio was determined by using the total number of PharmD students and the total number of full-time faculty members only.9 The median student-faculty ratio reported was 23 for the 2007-2008 academic year. In our analysis, the median student-faculty ratio, using AAUP and AAUP PLUS definitions, were 12.9 and 9.7, respectively. Although the data for each of the studies were not from the same year, the incorporation of part-time faculty members and lecturers (omitted from the Knapp study) resulted in a much lower student-faculty ratio. Additionally, although the ACPE guidelines state that the student-faculty ratio is important, ACPE and ACCP do not have an official stance on the most appropriate student-faculty ratio for a particular college/school of pharmacy.12 One study predicting pharmacy faculty workforce in the next 10 years used a student-faculty ratio of 10 as the “realistic target.”12 Therefore, consistent calculation of student-faculty ratio, in addition to guidance from the accrediting bodies regarding an appropriate student-faculty ratio, would aid administrators in hiring strategies.

The student-faculty ratio alone does not take into account the teaching workload for any particular faculty member. However, an increase in the number of students may result in increased instructional and clinical teaching; certain departments (such as pharmacy practice) may assume these responsibilities disproportionally. Often, problem-based teaching requiring small groups exists in pharmacy practice courses, such as therapeutics. However, these small groups are an ideal placement for instructors and lecturers. The increased number of students in pharmacy programs requires an increased number of introductory and advanced pharmacy practice experiences (IPPE and APPE), which may also require pharmacy practice faculty members to precept more clinical students. Although student-faculty ratio is not an ideal surrogate for teaching responsibilities, no other objective measures are available to determine the relationship between class size and teaching requirements. Other factors, such as course difficulties, multiple sessions of courses, class preparation, curriculum revisions, and student advising also must be incorporated.

Publications in PubMed and extramural funding were our 2 primary outcomes for scholarly productivity. However, some programs may be placing a priority on teaching and have a less stringent requirement for scholarly activity. As a result, their faculty members may be disseminating results in non-indexed print, online journals, and by other methods (eg, pharmacy and therapeutics reports, educational brochures). Advancement in the scientific community is defined by the research conducted by a profession or practice.10 Therefore, if our profession is not publishing results of such research, there are no archival records of the data and advancements achieved.11 Although the selection of Medline as a marker for scholarship is not all inclusive, indexed journals should be the most appropriate place for pharmacy faculty members to publish.

CONCLUSION

Scholarship is a multifactorial process, and assigning a single metric as a surrogate is fraught with problems. The academy should employ validated methods to evaluate scholarship of its member institutions. Validated methods are created by “good science” which has been defined as being evidence-based, logical, convincing, explanatory, honest, testable, and systematic. As defined currently, the student-faculty ratio as a surrogate for scholarship, possesses none of these qualities. The results indicate that faculty productivity is not related simply to the student-faculty ratio, wherein more faculty members and fewer students equate to increased scholarship. However, public universities may have a different infrastructure which allows for greater scholarly productivity compared to that of private institutions. Additionally, employing instructors, and clinical, or nontenure-track, faculty members can significantly increase scholarship.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

The authors acknowledge Dr. Farah Gonzalez for her assistance in the study design, data collection, and abstract presentation.

Appendix 1. Common data set initiative by the US Department of Education definition of total faculty and student-faculty ratio for the AAUP cohort.

FT Prof + PT Prof/3 + FT Assoc Prof + PT Assoc Prof/3 + FT Asst Prof + PT Asst Prof/3 + FT Researcher + PT Researcher/3 + Resident or Fellow/3

Student-faculty Ratio: The ratio of full-time equivalent students (full-time plus 1/3 part-time) to full-time equivalent instructional faculty (full-time plus 1/3 part-time).

Appendix 2. AAUP PLUS cohort

AAUP cohort + FT Clin Prof + PT Clin Prof/3 + FT Clin Assoc Prof + PT Clin Assoc Prof/3 + FT Clin Asst Prof + PT Clin Asst Prof/3 + FT Emeritus + PT Emeritus/3 + FT Lecturer + PT Lecturer/3 + FT Instructor + PT Instructor/3

Appendix 3. Demographics of Colleges of Pharmacy Included in the Analysis of Student-Faculty Ratio

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Object name is ajpe138app3.jpg

Abbreviations: S = state funded; P = private; NIH = National Institutes of Health; N/R = not reported; SFR= student-faculty ratio; AAUP = American Association of University Professors

REFERENCES

1. Academic Pharmacy's Vital Statistics. American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (ACCP). http://www.aacp.org/ABOUT/Pages/Vitalstats.aspx. Accessed July 21, 2010.
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10. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. http://www.carnegiefoundation.org. Accessed July 21, 2010.
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12. Beardsley R, Matzke GR, Rospond R, et al. Factors influencing the pharmacy faculty workforce. Am J Pharm Educ. 2008;72(2) Article 34. [PMC free article] [PubMed]

Articles from American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education are provided here courtesy of American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy