It’s a simple logical equation:

  • Premise A: Upper-division business courses are notoriously difficult.
  • Premise B: Studies indicate that students learn challenging concepts best when class size is small.
  • Conclusion: For the highest quality education, upper-division business courses should have a small class size.

Uniting these principals to improve the quality of education at Mays Business School at Texas A&M University is the goal of the differential tuition proposal, which will take effect in the fall 2008 semester. The plan involves a $610 increase for juniors and seniors in the business school each semester in addition to their university tuition.

While the plan has obvious benefits, not everyone is thrilled with the increase.

Why it’s necessary

Students in class
Mays’ current average of 117 students per class is more than other top-ranked business schools.

These funds will be used to hire additional faculty and offer more sections of each class, thus reducing the size of upper-level courses. Additionally, the extra money will enable the introduction of more break-out class sessions for most upper-level courses. After experimentation in several Mays courses, students have been shown to benefit from the opportunity to learn through this “lab” setting, meeting once a week for enhanced instruction led by a teaching assistant. The break-out sessions create a more personal learning environment for even the largest lecture classes.

The increase will also go toward recruiting the best faculty available for these new sections. As salaries of business school faculties must compete with compensation levels in the corporate world, this additional funding is highly important.

An added bonus of the reduced class size is that it will improve Mays placement in national business school rankings. Evaluations by organizations such as Business Week and U.S. News and World Report take into account student/instructor ratios when figuring their annual rankings.

Supporters say it’s worth the cost

Differential tuition has been a hot topic for the last year at Mays. As dollar signs fill students’ minds, administrators are focusing on the positives of the plan. Mays’ Interim Dean Ricky Griffin assures the undergrads that the increased amount is actually quite reasonable for a b-school education. “Our students will still be paying substantially less than students at comparable business schools across the state, including the University of Texas at Austin,” Griffin said. In the long run, Griffin feels that the enhancements provided by the extra funds will undoubtedly improve the quality of the business program, better prepare students for their future careers, and boost Mays’ position in national rankings—getting Mays one step closer to it’s goal of being recognized as one of the top ten programs in the U.S.

Conant looks at class in Ray Auditorium
“In my 22 years on the Mays faculty,” said Marketing Department Head Jeff Conant, “this is the most exciting development I have seen in our undergraduate program.”

Dean Griffin says the proposal received support from two university tuition policy committees with strong student representation. “When we first started exploring this option a couple of years ago, a majority of our own students who responded to a survey about differential tuition indicated that the benefits outweighed the costs,” said Griffin. Additionally, the Business Student Council’s direct input to the original differential tuition proposal indicates that the plan was created with the best interests of the students in mind. With that endorsement, the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents approved the measure at a meeting in March.

While the faculty understands the student concern for spending more money on their business education, they also see the correlation between increased educational quality and smaller classes, which can only be accomplished through increased funding. “Overall, I am convinced that the benefits of enhanced quality of education will exceed the increased costs to our students,” said James Benjamin, head of the Department of Accounting. “I expect there will be a significant change in the nature of many classes,” he added.

Marketing Department Head Jeff Conant also verbalized his support for the plan, citing the ability to develop a more hands-on, experimental learning environment through the reduced class sizes. “Smaller classes will allow faculty to more fully develop students’ leadership skills as communication and critical thinking is more strongly emphasized,” said Conant. “In my 22 years on the Mays faculty this is the most exciting development I have seen in our undergraduate program.”

Students sound off

Currently, Mays averages 117 students per class, making its classes much larger in size than other high-ranking business schools. The differential tuition plan will reduce core business classes from 117 to 38 students and upper-division classes from 41 to 28 students. With plans to add almost 50 new sections of regular classes to the Mays course schedule for the fall semester, the administration says upper-division students will benefit from the individual relationships they can develop with instructors in a less populated classroom setting.

Lauren Ashley, a junior marketing major, feels that this aspect of differential tuition is worth the extra $610 per semester. “I love smaller classes,” she said. “The learning environment is so much better when you aren’t just a number and the professor actually knows your name.”

Not every Mays student is this enthusiastic about the differential tuition plan. A few feel that despite the addition of smaller upper-level classes and break-out sessions designed to create a more personal education atmosphere, they would rather pay less and continue with the present class size. “I understand where they’re coming from, wanting to better our education, but a lot of my upper-level classes are really small anyway, so it’s just an extra $600 I have to pay,” said Brian Williams, a junior accounting major.

Mays administration also takes into account that fall 2008 senior business students won’t reap all the benefits of the initiative, as they will only experience smaller classes for one year. Because of this, their differential tuition will only cost $305 per semester in the 2008-2009 school year. The junior class will be the first to face the increase, paying the additional $610 for the upcoming fall and spring semesters. By Fall 2009, U3 and U4 students will see the full amount tacked on to their tuition. Differential tuition does not include business minors and is prorated for part-time students.

In every aspect of the plan, Mays administrators pledge to do what is best for students, cutting back costs where appropriate and increasing the focus on bettering the learning experience. “We will accept custodial responsibility for these funds with great seriousness of purpose. We pledge that differential tuition will directly benefit the students who will pay it,” said Griffin.