A Reasoned Approach to FTE Faculty

Robert I. Urofsky
Director of Accreditation

Standard I.N. in the CACREP Standards stipulates, “Institutional data reflect that the ratio of full-time equivalent (FTE) students to FTE faculty should not exceed 10:1.” In support of this standard, the CACREP Standards include a definition of Full-Time Equivalent as follows:

FULL-TIME EQUIVALENT — when calculating FTE ratios, programs use their institution’s definition of full-time student loads and faculty teaching loads, including part-time students and faculty at their percentage of full time.

In recognition of the fact that there are different ways to calculate FTE ratios and that some institutions of higher education (IHEs) have adopted institutional methods, the CACREP Board has indicated that it will accept an institution’s method of calculation providing it is an institutionally utilized approach and that it is presented in a transparent manner in the self-study. This all seems relatively straightforward so far, yes? Well, it is all relatively straightforward until one starts to get into the myriad faculty formulations that exist in different IHEs.

As CACREP’s Director of Accreditation, I field numerous calls with questions from faculty about calculating FTE. Our unit coordinator gets release time; can we count her as 1.0 FTE? Faculty member X is on sabbatical; how would we factor him into our calculation? Some of our faculty members teach one undergraduate Human Services class each year; how does this impact their inclusion in our FTE calculation? Our faculty members teach a 3-2 or a 2-3 teaching load; are they each 1.0 FTE or do they count as less FTE in certain semesters? Our faculty regularly teach overloads by choice; would they count as more than 1.0 FTE? This faculty member only teaches on the third Tuesday of every other Leap Year; any thoughts?

To be sure, the Glossary Definition offers insight into one possible method for calculating FTE that is based primarily on faculty teaching loads and that can be applied in a wide range of circumstances.  In this model, based on an institution’s definition of graduate faculty teaching loads, if a faculty member is teaching a full load in the term on which the calculation is based (e.g., Fall semester), then she would count as 1.0 FTE.  If she is not teaching a full load during that time period, her FTE figure would be decreased based on the number of courses taught in relation to a full teaching load. For example, if the official full-time graduate teaching load is 4 graduate courses per semester, then each course accounts for .25 FTE, so a faculty member only teaching 3 courses that terms accounts for .75 FTE (i.e., 3 x .25 FTE). The fact that this faculty member is not counting as a full FTE is generally accounted for under this model by the inclusion of adjunct and affiliate faculty in the calculation, once again based on what constitutes a full-time teaching load. So taking the teaching load described above, an adjunct faculty member teaching one course during that terms would account for .25 FTE (i.e., 1 x .25 FTE). The fact that a unit coordinator with course release time for administrative work did not count as a full 1.0 FTE due to the release time would be offset in the calculation by inclusion of FTE credit for the adjunct or affiliate faculty member teaching the course.

While overall a useful method, it doesn’t fully account for all circumstances.  What about faculty that don’t teach?  In some programs, clinical coordinators may only advise students and manage clinical placement and oversight processes, while still participating in overall program management activities. What about the unit coordinator with release time but during that release time she is doing administrative work specific to the counseling academic unit?  What about the faculty member who has research release time but the project centers on counseling-related topics and involves the management of a grant? Even beyond these scenarios that still involve teaching loads to a considerable extent, what about factors relating to the many other responsibilities faculty members have beyond teaching, such as advising, research, clinical practice, service and advocacy work, and program management.   As indicated, these types of scenarios would not be fully accounted for in a model that solely focuses on teaching loads, even though they are addressed in the CACREP Standards under the responsibilities for core faculty.  These scenarios call for either a different method of calculation or some sort of additional factors to supplement the teaching load model.  These scenarios call for a more reasoned approach to the determination of faculty FTE in particular situations.

Given that it is perhaps the easiest to address, let’s start with faculty teaching overload.  A single faculty member should not be counted as more than 1.0 FTE.  This is in the same vein as saying that my working more than a 40 hour week provides CACREP with more than one Director of Accreditation.  Faculty may choose to teach overloads for any number of reasons.  If faculty are doing it by necessity, then there likely are resource strains of the type that would be indicated by this standard.  Conversely, just because I do not spend all 40 hours of a week conducting  program reviews, does not mean I constitute less than 1.0 FTE Director of Accreditation.  My job entails more than direct program reviews and the other components of my job are directly related to the business of CACREP.  So, how best to capture that.

The tie that binds in these scenarios is the extent to which the professional activities directly relate to the business of the counseling academic unit.  Is the administrative work primarily in the service of the counseling academic unit or more to programs outside the graduate level unit in counseling, the school, college, or institution? Is the research the faculty member is conducting research related to the faculty member’s role as a member of the counseling faculty or is the faculty member participating in more administrative or institutionally oriented research outside of his counseling faculty member responsibilities? For non-teaching or limited teaching faculty members (e.g., possibly clinical faculty), to what extent are the professional activities of these faculty members directly tied to the academic unit in counseling?  The answers to these types of questions can assist the program in making determinations as to an appropriate FTE allocation per faculty member that bests captures the work he is doing in service of the counseling academic unit.  The next step, then, is for the program to present this information in a self-study or other report in a clear and transparent manner.

In sum, an FTE faculty calculation model, for purposes of the FTE student to FTE faculty ratio in Standard I.N, can, in large part, be based on what constitutes a full-time graduate teaching load. However, there will be scenarios that will present themselves where there is a need to go beyond consideration of teaching load to consideration of the extent to which the faculty member’s professional activities are in service to the counseling unit and/or are directly related to their professional responsibilities as a counseling faculty member.  Please note here that this determination is specific to FTE determination for I.N. and not determinations of core faculty status.  A guiding concept for these FTE determinations can be similar to what in the law is termed the ‘reasonableness test’ in which the guiding factor is whether or not  reasonable persons similarly acquainted with the law and facts come up with the same decision or might they have come up with a different decision. In this instance, would peer reviewers (i.e., initial reviewers, site team members, CACREP Board members) agree with the program’s presentation of its allocation of FTEs outside of a determination based on teaching loads as a partial indication that it possesses the necessary faculty resources to address the teaching, clinical supervision, advising, and other management activities for the counseling programs.

In closing, let’s once again consider some of the complicated scenarios in this article.  Would it seem reasonable that a counseling academic unit leader who doesn’t teach a full teaching load but all of whose administrative service is in support of the counseling academic unit would count as 1.0 FTE for purposes of the calculation?  This would seem to be a reasonable assertion.  Could the same be said for the department chair of a joint department with two or more disciplines who is a counseling faculty member but who does not teach in the program and whose administrative responsibilities within the administrative hierarchy are more to the administration of multiple disciplines and to the school or college housing the department?  What about a clinical coordinator with limited teaching responsibilities but whose professional activities, including advising, outreach to sites, managing placements and paperwork, etc. are all in the service of the counseling academic unit? What FTE should he be allocated for the calculation?  What about a faculty member whose primary professional responsibilities are to the counseling academic unit but who regularly teaches an undergraduate course or course for a separate program area? The answers to these questions must be worked out by the individual program based on the context and nuances of the program.  Ultimately, whatever answer the program arrives at should be presented in a clear and transparent manner.  A reasonableness test can be a useful guide for making determinations of appropriate FTE allocations for faculty.   Unfortunately,  I’m afraid there probably isn’t any good answer that would pass a reasonableness test for a faculty member who only teaches on the third Tuesday of every other Leap Year. But that is, indeed, a special and unique scenario.