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Business Officer Magazine

We Don’t Close the Door Behind Us

Higher enrollments at the Texas A&M University System don’t dilute the value of an Aggie engineering degree.

By Margo Vanover Porter

"If a student receives the same high-quality education, and if he is gainfully employed in our industry, how have you diluted the value?" asks M. Katherine Banks, vice chancellor and dean of engineering, Texas A&M University System. "You dilute value when you start adding too many students to a classroom. You dilute value when you allow instructors to inflate grades. You dilute value when you don't focus on building small communities within the larger community. With every step we take, we consider the quality of the degree." (Read also, "Engineering Growth" in the July/August 2016 issue of Business Officer magazine.)

In fact, since the deployment of the university's "25 by 25" initiative-an ambitious undertaking with the ultimate goal of increasing the number of students in the engineering program to 25,000 by 2025-Banks maintains that maximum class sizes have decreased. Classes that had ballooned to more than 200-even 300-students have been jettisoned in favor of smaller settings.

"We have no engineering class with more than 100 students today," she says. "Over half of our undergraduate courses have fewer than 50 students, and 92 percent of our graduate courses have fewer than 50 students. The majority of our classes at the undergraduate and graduate levels have similar class sizes, which are comparable to what you would find at a smaller private institution." 

A Land Grant Mission

Surveying history, Banks points out that a Texas A&M degree was not diminished when the number of university students rapidly increased from 14,200  in 1970 to 33,499 in 1980. "We have 64,376 students at Texas A&M today, " she says. "I don't believe the Aggies who graduate today would say that their degrees have less value than those who graduated in 1970." Aggies refers to the students, graduates, and sports teams of Texas A&M University. It was commonly used at land-grant or agriculture schools in many states.

Banks adds that Texas is one of the few states with an ever-increasing number of high school graduates. "We are the land grant institution in this state," she says. "A land grant institution meets the needs of the citizens of the state. Given that we have more high school graduates who are better prepared every year, and we have a program that can manage increased capacity, and we have a clear plan for growth, why would we not give more students the opportunity to become Aggie engineers?"

If critics urge caution about the burgeoning numbers, Banks calmly responds: "Remember, a third of the students who were accepted this year's class would not have been accepted without 25 by 25," she emphasizes. "I remind our current students of that often. We're Aggies. We don't close the door behind us. That's not our culture. It may be the model for small private or highly selective state institutions, but that's not who we are. We will continue to embrace our land grant mission, and we will ensure that every student who graduates from this college receives a high-quality degree and is well prepared to succeed in the engineering profession."

Keeping a Close Eye

According to Banks, the 25 by 25 initiative revolves around three principles:

  • Transforming engineering education for students.
  • Increasing access to an engineering education for students.
  • Staying cost effective for students.

"If at any point we feel that we are not meeting those principles, we slow down, reassess, and strategize about how to improve our operation and our product," she insists.

MARGO VANOVER PORTER, Locust Grove, Va., covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.

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