Although both figures have fluctuated, increases in the number of faculty members at Oklahoma's public colleges and universities have outpaced enrollment growth during the past 15 years.
But since the onset of the economic recession, that trend has reversed, with enrollment growth outstripping faculty increases.
Since the 1996-97 academic year, Oklahoma colleges and universities have seen their enrollment grow 23.57 percent, jumping from 206,776 in Fall 1996 to 255,503 last year, according to enrollment records from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.
During the same period, Oklahoma public universities have seen their average full-time equivalent faculty numbers grow 32.94 percent, according to State Regents records.
However, since the 2007-08 academic year — roughly the onset of the recession — that trend has reversed. Since that year, enrollment grew nearly 10 percent while the full-time equivalent faculty total grew only 6.84 percent.
Even after the addition of two rounds of stimulus funding, the Oklahoma higher education system has seen its total appropriations shrink 3.57 percent during that period, records show. The system received $68.8 million in stimulus funds in the 2010 fiscal year and $59.8 million in the 2011 fiscal year.
It's difficult to say with any degree of certainty exactly what factors cause fluctuations in faculty and enrollment numbers, said Ben Hardcastle, a spokesman for the State Regents. But, he said, one of the factors that likely contributed to the overall increase in faculty members was a greater reliance on adjunct professors.
Adjunct faculty members — temporary, untenured instructors who often hold full-time jobs outside academia — may teach three or six credit hours per semester, Hardcastle said.
So where one tenured professor may have taught five courses a decade ago, those same five courses may now be covered by three adjunct faculty members.
The growing use of adjunct faculty members is becoming a national trend. In its 2010-2011 Occupational Outlook Handbook for postsecondary teachers, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecast a continued reliance on part-time and short-term contract instructors as colleges and universities look for flexibility in dealing with financial issues and changing student