The six-to-one student-to-faculty ratio at the School of Management is among the lowest of top business schools nationwide, but that will soon change.
The SOM student body will increase from roughly 450 to 600 students by fiscal year 2017, which SOM Dean Edward Snyder said will raise tuition revenue and ensure sufficient enrollment in the school’s wide range of course offerings. He said he thinks the increase will not be large enough to detract from students’ classroom experiences, adding that the number of faculty would also rise once the school moves into its new, larger campus in 2013, though not enough to maintain the current student-to-faculty ratio. Though many educational institutions take pride in small classes, four SOM professors interviewed said business schools in particular benefit from having many students who can draw from their work experiences in discussion.
“We’re just really small,” Snyder said. “We have to build a lot of the same curricular infrastructure as everybody else, but we don’t have as many students.”
Professor Shane Frederick, who teaches courses on consumer behavior, said he felt classes with fewer than 20 students might not have the “critical mass” necessary to sustain dynamic class discussion. Still, he said it can be difficult to manage and encourage participation among 30 students or more.
Judith Chevalier ’89, another SOM professor, said small classes are not always effective, because an MBA education relies heavily on students’ previous business experiences.
“I really don’t like to be in a room [teaching] with fewer than 15 students,” she said. “An MBA class is a little more about the range of experiences that the students bring to the classroom, so an elective class of eight just feels way too small.”
Rodrigo Canales, who teaches the first-year “Innovator” core class, said the student body would have to increase far more than it will for students to lose opportunities to work directly with professors. Snyder said first-year classes will not grow because an extra section will be created, and Canales said students’ first-year experiences will not be affected as a result.
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James Freeland, senior associate dean for faculty and research at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, said large class sizes can also foster an intimate academic environment. At Darden, he said, courses must have at least 25 students, and class sizes average 45.
Still, Darden has numerous policies in place to help students form relationships with professors, he said, including an “open-door policy” encouraging students to visit professors at any time rather than restricting meetings to scheduled office hours.
But not all business schools champion large class sizes. Rajan Madhav, senior associate dean of academic affairs at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, said a “big selling point” of the school’s MBA program is its “intimacy.” Many courses at the school — which has roughly 800 students and a student-to-faculty ratio of six to one — are capped at 15 students.
In addition to increasing class sizes, the rise in the student population at SOM will give the school a larger amount of tuition revenue, which is more stable than funds from other sources such as fundraising and endowment income. Diane Palmeri, SOM’s associate dean of finance and administration, said in a Feb. 29 email that roughly two-fifths of the school’s operating budget will come from tuition revenue once the student body rises to its new size.
Freeland said small increases in student body size can substantially increase revenue. He added that the cost of employing a full-time faculty member — which hovers around $300,000 per year when benefits and research support are taken into account — is difficult to meet without a large student body.
There are roughly 100 faculty members at SOM.