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Psychological Science
Completed Project

Mass School Shootings: Potential Risk of School Size and Student-Teacher Ratio

Emma Roellke, Vassar College ’16 and Prof. Abigail Baird

School shootings have approached epidemic levels in recent years. While mental illness is undoubtedly involved in nearly all cases of mass school violence, we sought to determine how environmental context may exacerbate preexisting personal factors. The present study investigated the association between mass school shootings and school enrollment size and student-faculty ratio. Our sample consisted of twenty-two mass school shooting cases between January 1995 and June 2014. Information about school shootings was gathered using preexisting school shooting databases and news media reports. Using state and national databases, data regarding school size and student-faculty ratios of incident schools was collected. Information about schools where shooters previously attended, as well as state average school statistics, were also obtained. Schools where mass shootings occurred had significantly higher enrollments than their state average counterparts. Additionally, students who committed acts of mass violence were significantly more likely to have previously attended a school with a smaller student body and/or a lower than state average student-faculty ratio. Our findings are consistent with previous literature indicating that smaller schools are less likely to experience acts of mass violence. Additionally, our results suggest that transitioning from a smaller, more supportive school to a larger, more anonymous school may exacerbate preexisting mental health issues among potential school shooters. The results of this study have significant implications for educational policy reform.