Practice Area Column

The ‘Magical Ratio’

Factors in finding the right balance for adviser caseloads
Photo: Freshpaint/Shutterstock
Susan Ladika

Many offices of international student and scholar services (ISSS) wrestle with how to determine the right number of advisers they should have on staff for the number of students they serve.

“Everybody is looking for a magical ratio of advisee to adviser,” says Amber Tetreau, associate director of admissions, immigration, and student services at the University of Arizona.

However, that number can differ dramatically between institutions based on factors that change from year to year. The office’s organizational structure and general goals, the institution’s international student enrollment, and the international students’ profiles and levels of need affect how ISSS offices should establish their adviser-to-student ratio.

Because offices often want to use that number as a benchmark to confirm their staffing levels, or to justify adding staff, “It’s a perennial question,” says Charter Morris, director of international student and scholar services at the University of Alabama. “Everyone asks what the ideal ratio should be.”

Factors to Consider

Institutions have traditionally divided up students among advisers based on different organizing principles, including alphabetically; by school, such as education or business; by immigration status, such as F-1 or J-1 visas; or by types of services, such as sponsored students or employment services.

But other variables come into play when determining the adviser-to-student ratio, says Charmagne Sweet-Herlien, director of international employment and scholar services at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“No one does it in a scientific way, that I know of,” she says. “There are a lot of push-pull factors.”

Among the

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