It wouldn’t take Goldilocks three tries at Indiana State — she’d know right away the university is big enough to spread her wings but small enough to get high-quality attention from faculty and staff.
Kyle Varble, ’17, loved growing up in the small, southern Indiana town of Rockport, where his high school graduating class had just 120 students.
When he began his college search more than four years ago, he went looking for a university that would offer a similar atmosphere. Ultimately, he chose Indiana State because he immediately felt at home on campus.
“Each professor not only knew my name, but they also knew me on a personal level,” said Varble.
That one-on-one attention also helped him land a prestigious management-track job at Rolls-Royce right after graduation. Varble, who graduated with a degree in operations and supply chain management, interned at the company between his junior and senior years, thanks to several connections between Rolls-Royce and the university.
One of the people who helped Varble start his career was Kuntal Bhattacharyya, an associate professor of operations and supply chain management and the director of the Center for Supply Management Research.
“Dr. B would go around the room during class and see how everybody was doing,” Varble said. “He wanted to know how everybody was tracking toward getting a full-time job after graduation.”
Every day at Indiana State, professors like Bhattacharyya are forging personal connections with students to help ensure their success as students and alumni. The university’s student-to-faculty ratio is small, averaging about 21 students for every faculty member.
Beyond that, 64 percent of classes have fewer than 30 students, which often means Sycamores get to know their classmates and their professors on a much deeper level.
“A lot of the time, students will seek out universities that are sized in a way so that they don’t feel lost in a crowd, so that the campus community seems more accessible and a little more intimate, so that they can really get to know other students and faculty members,” said Mike Licari, vice president of academic affairs and provost. “It’s very important for students because they get what we think is a better academic environment.”
Licari pointed out that a smaller student-to-faculty ratio also gives faculty members an opportunity to play a larger role in advising and mentoring students. They can offer more in-depth, writing- or research-heavy assignments. Plus, professors enjoy getting to know their students.
The relationships students form with their professors can also be one of the keys to their success at State, which is working to increase its four-year graduation rate.
“A lot of students throughout the country who don’t persist leave because they just felt like they never fit in with the university and its community,” Licari said. “They say things like, ‘Well I wasn’t sure anybody at the university cared about me.’ With our small student-to-faculty ratio, it’s much less likely students will have those feelings here at Indiana State.”
‘Like a family’
Indiana State’s operations and supply chain management program, which started six years ago in the Scott College of Business, has grown from eight students in its first cohort to more than 50 students today.
Even while growing, the program has been able to maintain a relatively low student-to-faculty ratio, which has allowed professors to assign intensive, hands-on projects that require students to solve real problems for multinational companies operating in the Midwest.
Professors also play an active role in advising students, asking thought-provoking questions about their life goals, dreams and aspirations.
“We are like a family,” Bhattacharyya said. “I can tell you, I know all my students — and I know more than just their names. I know their strengths and their weaknesses.”
Bhattacharyya said he benefitted from having mentors throughout his academic and professional life, so he understands the true value of forming one-on-one relationships with students.
It’s clear that the program’s approach is working: It has a 100-percent job-placement rate for students after graduation. Beyond that, students are earning competitive salaries right away.
“In the broader run, we can look back and say that we have been able to see success because of our unique, student-focused setup,” Bhattacharyya said.
Graduate students in Indiana State’s doctorate of clinical psychology (Psy.D.) program also benefit from an extremely low student-to-faculty ratio.
Each year, between eight and 10 students are accepted into the program, which consistently has a 100-percent placement rate for highly competitive, accredited internships required to earn the degree.
The small cohort size allows the department to offer more financial support to students, such as teaching assistantships.
It also allows faculty to give one-on-one feedback when students work in the university’s training clinic, said Liz O’Laughlin, professor and director of clinical training.
As with other small programs at Indiana State, the small class size creates a sense of community that students and professors find invaluable.
“If someone’s not in class, we definitely know it and can ask their classmates what’s going on,” O’Laughlin said. “It also allows for more mentoring — students often have interactions with multiple faculty members in one day, which may not happen in a larger program.”
Both the undergraduate and graduate programs in speech-language pathology at Indiana State are small, with 20 to 30 students in each grade at the undergraduate level and roughly 20 students in each graduate cohort.
This ratio allows professors to regularly check in with students who may be struggling and get them the help and resources they need to succeed, said Amanda Solesky, senior instructor and the director of the Rowe Center for Communicative Disorders.
“Especially in our program, that definitely matters,” Solesky said. “It’s a difficult program and if it were bigger, it would be a lot less personal. I wouldn’t get to know my students as well. I kind of think of them as my kids — I want them to do well.
Solesky frequently touts the benefits of Indiana State’s small class sizes to prospective students and their parents. If students need to meet with a professor about their performance on a recent exam, they can usually do so right away, a benefit they might not have at another university.
“Our doors are always open,” Solesky said.
Like many other genetic counseling master’s programs across the country, Indiana State keeps its program small — each cohort has just eight students.
The main reason for keeping the program small is to give students meaningful clinical experiences, said Megan Tucker, director of the master’s in genetic counseling program and the genetic counseling clinic.
During the first year of the program, students regularly practice clinical interactions with actors pretending to be patients in the Rural Health Innovation Collaborative Simulation Center.
Tucker watches the simulations through a one-way mirror and provides students with detailed feedback.
“There’s real value in being part of something from beginning to end with one student,” Tucker said. “With that one-on-one attention, they not only feel that we care, but it also means we’re truly able to give rich feedback.”
Although there have been discussions about expanding the program at Indiana State to better meet industry needs, faculty members always come back to the idea of quality over quantity, Tucker said.
“There’s a shortage of genetic counselors right now, so it would be great to add more students,” said Tucker. “But we have all seen such quality students produced with our small class sizes that there’s a lot of concern about plugging more people in and reducing the quality of graduates when they’re not getting that kind of personalized attention.”