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USU business students want more bang for their ‘differential tuition’ bucks

May 4th, 2010 Posted in Opinion

By Hillary Bowler

LOGAN—At the beginning of fall semester, Tyler Howell had budgeted for just the amount of money he needed for tuition—or so he thought.  When he went to pay for tuition, he noticed the amount was considerably higher than it had ever been. 

“I had no idea what it was or why my tuition was so much more expensive,” Howell said.  His mother, Kathleen Howell, confirmed her son’s reaction: “He sure wasn’t happy about it and he’s a pretty mellow kid.”

This tuition upset was Howell’s first experience with differential tuition at Utah State University’s Jon M. Huntsman School of Business.

Howell, 25, is a senior at USU majoring in operations management and human resources.  When he first discovered the differential tuition he talked to his cousin, who is also a student in the school of business and a member of the Business Council made up of about 15 students. The council helped pass the differential tuition, so his cousin was able to explain the situation to Howell.

After discussing the tuition change with his cousin, Howell felt he understood the reasoning a little better.  However, he has been a business student for five years and said “I still haven’t seen any changes in the school of business.”

‘Investing in Students’ Futures’

According to Utah State University’s website, the differential tuition at the school of business was approved by the Utah State Board of Regents on March 9, 2007.  An official letter from Clifford Skousen, senior associate dean for faculty and administrative affairs, posted on the school of business’s website says that differential tuition for the 2009-2010 school year amounts to $2 per credit hour for lower division classes (1000 and 2000 level) and $52 per credit hour for upper level courses (3000-5000 level).  The letter estimates the total extra cost for a business degree at Utah State University to be approximately $2,100.  Graduate students currently pay an extra $199 per credit hour.

According to the letter, demand for business professors nationwide is high and the differential tuition will basically help USU’s school of business to keep up. “Without the additional resources to recruit and retain top faculty, the quality of a USU business degree would be threatened,” Skousen wrote.

Ken Snyder, executive dean and chief administrative officer for the Huntsman School of Business, discussed differential tuition in a manner very different from Howell.  “It’s been absolutely essential to move the business school forward and I think students would agree,” he said. 

He continued to say that students who don’t agree that differential tuition is a good idea must not completely understand it, or must not have ever experienced what the school is like without it.

USU is not the only school that has a differential tuition for their school of business, Snyder explained. In fact, the University of Utah’s school of business had the idea before USU.  Snyder attended a conference in January with many other business administrators from universities all over the country.  He estimates that slightly over half of the schools of business in the nation have differential tuition in some form.

Snyder said that there are three main things that the differential tuition is used to pay for.  First is to pay faculty.  Second, the differential tuition is used to help fund experiential programs for the students.  “There’s a push to get business students out of the classroom,” Snyder said, emphasizing the importance of such experiences in order to get a good education. 

The third thing differential tuition has been used for is the hiring of three senior executives who work as what Snyder called “career acceleration specialists.”  They are retired business executives with a lot of experience in the field.  Snyder said these new faculty members are vital to a good education for business students, as they get to know as many students as possible, helping them with internships, jobs, and working as career coaches.

Regarding the cost for faculty alone, Snyder said that the current market price for a professor with a Ph.D. in business is about $110,000 a year. The university can only provide enough funding to pay business faculty about $70,000 a year. 

Snyder said that the school of business wanted to have a faculty made up of professors with the proper degrees and credentials rather than being made up of mainly adjunct professors—meaning business owners, executives, etc., who the school pays to teach classes.  While adjunct professors can be very good, Snyder said, “we want them (the students) to have a robust university education with good training, and it’s impossible to do it without the funds (from differential tuition).”  He said that they are essentially investing in the students’ futures.

Is it working?

One of Howell’s professors told his class that the differential tuition will help with establishing credibility and keeping a good reputation for the school.  “Personally, I don’t think raising tuition will change how prestigious my degree is,” he said. 

The professor also told the class that the tuition change can help to keep the school in the running with other nationally renowned schools like Harvard’s school of business. 

“It’ll never reach Harvard level,” Howell said, mentioning that USU will never really be in the same league as schools like Harvard.

As of right now, Howell still hasn’t noticed any difference in the quality of courses and professors’ teaching. “If it (the differential tuition) does change any quality, it’ll be years down the road.”

Justin Allred, a 23-year-old junior majoring in finance and economics, supports the differential tuition. “If I am able to see what my money is used for, that it is actually used for something that is going to benefit me, and I am able to see the potential future value of my investment, then yes, I support differential tuition.”

Allred said he has seen vast improvements in the overall quality of instruction and has been able to participate in an undergraduate research program he called a life-changing experience.  Allred explained that this kind of experience is rare for undergraduate students and that it probably wouldn’t have happened without the funding for better faculty from the differential tuition.

In contrast, Christopher Pope, a 19-year-old junior majoring in sociology at Brigham Young University, said he never saw any point to the differential tuition when he was a business student at USU fall semester. He said he heard plenty of professors and students on the business council give a pitch to other students about how necessary and beneficial the tuition increase is. 

“I just thought, ‘That’s a nice justification to get more of our money,’ but it doesn’t really make a difference (in the quality),” Pope said.

Money is everything

Snyder predicts that the differential tuition will increase not this coming year, but for the 2011-2012 school year.  The school hopes to continue expanding faculty and programs, and to hire anywhere from six to 10 more career acceleration specialists.

Snyder thinks the differential tuition has been a success so far.  Regarding students who are not pleased with it, he said, “I don’t know how they could not see the benefits from it.”

“I’m not pro raise tuition endlessly. I get just as frustrated as any other student with the rising costs of tuition,” Allred stated.  He emphasized that he will only support differential tuition so long as he continues to see the benefits from it.

“It has been difficult to pay more money for school. I work 30-35 hours a week and study full time. It has been difficult to make my money stretch,” he said.

Pope said the differential tuition was a factor in his leaving the school of business and transferring to another school.  He had started out majoring in international business at USU. 

“It would’ve killed a lot of my goals simply because I couldn’t pay the extra amount,” Pope said.  He explained that because of his scholarships through the university and multiple business departments, differential tuition hadn’t made too much of a difference for him.  It was mostly taken care of.

However, Pope had intended to attend summer semester this year and to take a leave of absence for an LDS mission.  None of his scholarships covered summer semester and he wasn’t expecting to still have those scholarships when he returns from his mission.  Tuition was just going to cost too much. 

After transferring, Pope was even planning on returning to USU’s business school for a graduate degree later down the road—until he found out about the $199 extra cost per credit hour for graduate students.  “I’m definitely going to look at my other options now,” he said. “That is definitely deterring me from returning to Utah State.”

Howell, who has always worked full time through school and pays for his own tuition entirely, said that it’s a little easier to pay the differential tuition now that he’s expecting it.  Yet, he’s had to change his budgeting quite a bit and is still unhappy with having to pay more money for what he believes has been very little change.

“I’m glad I’m almost done with school,” Howell said, referring to the expense, “I feel bad for the students coming in.”


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