The market has certainly become more competitive which also makes the life of a dean less comforting.
People have had to be more aggressive in order to compete more effectively. When you go into a situation where H1B visas are limited and domestic applicants are down, you can only bring in so many international students. You could have good enrollment today and in two years be toast. So there is much more competition for domestic students. Hopefully, they look around enough to realize there is financial aid for anyone.
In fact, some deans say that there is an absolute arm’s race in scholarship money at many business schools. You agree?
We look at the extent to which we have admitted students and they come back to us and talk about school Y offering them a full ride. Sometimes when we offer a full scholarship, it’s not unusual for people to come back and say they are getting a scholarship and a stipend from another school. We have lost students in some cases because they were getting more from the other schools that accepted them. It’s going to be necessary for schools to differentiate themselves better or they will fall into this problem all the time.
The market is just changing dramatically. It will be interesting to see where it goes. I am a counter cyclical guy. I think the specialized master’s programs will become less valuable to students and they will go back to the MBA. Right now, it seems more people are using them and schools are using the programs to take in more international students to offset the domestic decline in the MBA programs.
What do you consider to be your key accomplishments as dean since you got the job in 2006?
I think we made great progress in turning around the school. We were in a position where everybody was demoralized. We had been declining in the rankings for awhile—maybe 15 or more years in the U.S. News. There were a lot of angry alumni. We have seen things improved. The outcomes are better, and the rankings have picked up, although you can never tell what is going to happen in the next round.
What did you do to get the improvement?
We focused on the basic inputs and outputs to students: admissions, placement and student satisfaction. I think we have dealt with issues more directly over the years. We hadn’t done a good job of serving the needs of our students. I look at our benchmarking on student satisfaction and it has improved dramatically. The numbers are three times higher than they were, going from from 30% to around 80%. We measure this by the percentage of students who give us the top two grades on a seven-point scale. I have been proud of all the work that people put in to make that happen. I am excited by what we’ve done and hopeful for the future, but it is not going to get easier going forward.
When you first became dean did you have an immediate agenda for the school?
When I came in everybody from the members of the advisory board to the provost asked how do you differentiate the programs. We always had been differentiated with a one-year MBA program, but that lost its ability to be successful in 2000 because employers started to hire more based on internships. For us, I took an approach based on experienced learning. It is experiential education. It is giving students more opportunities to engage in behaviors that reflect what they are talking about in the classroom. We have put a lot of effort into that. I do think that kind of differentiation will work.
I don’t think a business school could choose a discipline and differentiate itself that way unless you had a billion dollars because there are too many other people in the space. So we tried to pick a space where things were going because we had more students with less work experience. We had to find ways to give them more experience and that is what we have been trying to do.
Have you taken advantage of the growth in specialized master’s programs in recent years?
We put in place s specialized master’s in accounting and also will put in place some specialized master’s programs in consumer insights and finance. We have two others that have been proposed. These programs are designed to be small but to help us use excess capacity. The MS in accounting was bigger than designed because Pennsylvania went to the 150-credit hour requirement for the CPA. We felt there would be a strong demand there and there has been a huge demand for the program. We currently have 124 students in the MS in accounting program. It started five years ago with 20 students. Now we have the same number of applications for that program as we have for our full-time MBA program—about 535 for each program.
What’s the size of your full-time MBA program these days?
Right now, our goal is always 100 to 110 new MBA students each year. We have found in the last few years that is a stretch. We brought in 84 this year and last year it was about the same. Of that group, probably 10 are in the one-year program and the rest are in the two-year program.
Our largest MBA program is part-time. We have 450 and 500 students, and that group continues to be reasonably robust although there is more variability in that group and more competition. Carnegie Mellon is a big competitor with us in the part-time MBA market, but they are so much more expensive than we are so we have an advantage—and there is much less financial aid being given out in part-time programs.
That is why everybody is so nervous. If online mbas were to dig into a market where they took your part-time MBA program away, then you are going to have real challenges because that is often the program that pays the bills.
We have seen strong growth at the undergraduate level. We have about 2,150 students. We are 20% bigger from when I arrived and about 5% higher at graduate level. We’ve increased our faculty by 13%, but it’s not enough to entirely offset the big increase in student enrollment.
So are you making that up with adjunct teachers?
We created a plan when I first arrived. The goal was to reduce adjuncts and increase the size of the full-time faculty pool and be as efficient as we could on the staff side. We coupled this with an effort to generate extra revenue through several different approaches like fundraising and executive education. So we reduced adjuncts and increased tenured faculty but also full-time faculty who focus on teaching.
Virtually every other school has been doing the same thing. It’s the only way you can deal with tenured faculty who have a three-course load and can’t be used to teach all your students. It has allowed us to manage the instruction more effectively. One of the things I see is that when we look at our average teaching evaluations, the highest evaluations are from this non-tenured stream faculty. So to us, it’s working. The adjuncts and in some cases doctoral students tend to have ratings that are lower and with greater variance.