New higher ed faculty hires will help reduce crowded classrooms

While most states faced with continuing budget shortfalls have put a cap on new faculty hires, Florida is taking a different approach. Throughout the state, colleges and universities are hiring faculty to accommodate growing high-demand fields like health and engineering—and, in some cases, to boost their prestige.

New hires are expected at the University of Florida, the University of South Florida, Florida Atlantic University, Florida State University, Florida International University and the University of Central Florida. Altogether these institutions will add about 1,500 largely tenure-track faculty members in the coming years.

The University of Florida, for example, will bring on an additional 500 faculty members. But this doesn’t necessarily mean adding students. The school plans to hold its residential undergraduate population constant, while allowing its UF Online program to grow without limit. That combination will lower student-faculty ratios.

The added faculty will also allow the university to redesign its first-year calculus program completely, Provost Joseph Glover says. These sessions currently take place in large lecture auditoriums, but next year the class will change to a smaller “flipped” format.

“This means we need additional classrooms suitable for that purpose,” Glover says.

Mathematics already has a new classroom and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is renovating another.

“Many of the classes will fit into current facilities, but where we need to renovate existing classrooms or create new instructional spaces, we will do so,” he says.

At the University of South Florida, enrollment growth has outpaced faculty. The school is hiring 300 additional faculty to remedy that situation, and to help it gain prestige. Officials hope the institution will become a member of the esteemed American Association of Universities, but its current student to faculty ratio (24 to 1) is a stumbling block.

The university wants to bring ratios to 19 to 1 or lower.

Ralph Wilcox, provost and executive vice president, says additional faculty will help deliver what students say they want: “Smaller classes will, in part, be accommodated through more efficient scheduling of existing classrooms and through addressing students’ demand   for expanded access to online delivery and learning.”

Officials do anticipate needing additional research labs to accommodate new faculty in the colleges of engineering and medicine, or in natural sciences and mathematics.

“Additional space will be addressed through new construction, renovation and leasing,” Wilcox says.

Understandably, the plan to increase faculty is not without cost. At the University of South Florida, for example, the combination of new faculty (recruiting, salaries and benefits), plus renovations or new construction, is expected to cost as much as $388 million over five years.

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