Administrators at the University of Tennessee’s Haslam College of Business were doing a review of their class data when they noticed that students who had taken a professional development course their freshman year had much higher retention and graduation rates than those who hadn’t taken it. It was a light bulb moment for Michael Lane Morris, Haslam’s associate dean of undergraduate programs.
“The class had made that big of a difference for students,” Lane says.
Lane and his colleagues realized that the entire freshman class would benefit from more exposure to professional and leadership development coursework, a move that will hopefully boost graduation and retention rates, he says. Starting this year, all freshmen must take the professional development class, titled How to Become an Inclusive Leader in a Diverse Community.
The course is now part of a suite of required courses that students will take each year as they progress through Haslam’s four-year business degree program. The other required classes will explore how to be an ethical leader and effective communicator, build students’ personal and professional awareness and look at ways students can have an impact and make a positive difference in the world after they graduate from college.
HASLAM ENROLLS MORE FIRST-GENERATION COLLEGE STUDENTS THAN ANY OTHER TOP 50 B-SCHOOL
These offerings are part of a series of small but subtle changes, from new courses to enhanced career service offerings, that administrators at the Haslam School hope will enhance and strengthen students’ experience at the school, ranked No. 67 in P&Q’s undergraduate ranking of business programs. The school, located near the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in the city of Knoxville, has a large undergraduate business program with 4,700 students enrolled in the College of Business. Despite being such a big program, the school makes an effort to make sure that students feel they are getting personalized attention, says Lane.
That’s important at a school where 25% of the incoming freshmen class in 2016 was first-generation college students, the highest percentage of any of P&Q’s ranked schools.
For example, every student in the business program meets with a professional advisor once a semester for a 35 to 40-minute long appointment, a requirement that goes above and beyond the university’s requirement for students to meet just once a year with an advisor. In addition, Haslam created a new Student Engagement and Success Center a year ago, part of an effort to make students feel more connected to the business school. The center held an event this fall where they rented out a basketball stadium for the school’s 1000 Haslam freshman and invited 100 juniors to come in and do icebreakers with the freshmen and engage them in experiential learning activities. Students were fed boxed dinners and given Haslam t-shirts to wear to encourage school spirit.
“We are really engaged to committing to our students in multiple ways, with multiple touch points along the way,” Lane says. “I know we are a big school, but we want our school to have small, personal feel to it.”
MAJORS PLUS COLLATERALS AND CONCENTRATIONS
Haslam’s curriculum begins freshman year when students take core classes that help them build a basic business foundation. Students can major in one of nine areas, and in addition pick up a secondary area of study, known at the school as a collateral or a concentration. The collaterals require students to take on an additional eight credit hours, while the concentrations have students take on 12 extra credit hours. “We don’t call them minors because they’re more than that,” Lane says. “They essentially pick up a major in a secondary area.”
The integrated curriculum culminates in a capstone course that students take as upperclassmen called Marketplace Live Business Simulation, where students are asked to build, market and design computers at various price points and compete against each other as teams. It’s a semester-long course that helps students learn the ramifications of day-to-day decisions that are made in the business world, Lane says. Students also get a chance to take on different business roles during the simulation, such as the head of accounting, finance or human resources departments. Executive coaches are hired by the school to come into the class and evaluate students on how well they execute leadership skills over the course of the simulation.
“That’s another area we are proud of in terms of integration. The students don’t just leave here having taken a deep dive into their major, they get a pretty good across the board experience,” Lane says.
MARKETPLACE LIVE BUSINESS SIMULATION A HIT AMONG ALUMS
The simulation capstone was a favorite class for Drew Roschli, a 2014 alum who now works as a terminal trainmaster with BNSF Railway.
“It required us to apply everything we learned in a competitive environment,” Roschli explains. “Not only was it extremely educational, but it was also one of the most fun classes that I took. It has been immensely useful so far in my early career.”
Haslam graduates from the class of 2014 gave the school its highest scores in P&Q’s alumni survey for the availability of business school faculty for information discussions and mentoring outside of the classroom. That doesn’t surprise Lane, who said faculty can frequently be found chatting with students in the hallway in between classes and in their offices. “We start out by telling students on the very first day of summer orientation, before they even get on campus, that we want them engaging with our faculty,” Lane says. “And we really mean it when we say our faculty want to engage them.”
Alums were less pleased with the effectiveness of the school’s career services offerings and programs, giving Haslam its lowest score in this area on the alumni survey.
Only 43% of the class of 2015 had internships, the lowest numbers among P&Q’s ranked undergraduate business programs that year, a number that increased slightly in 2016 to 47%.
About 76% of graduating class of 2015 and 2016 had jobs secured within three months of graduation. The average salary for 2015 graduates was $47,358, while 2016 graduates emerged with an average salary of $47,758.
IMPROVING ON CAREER SERVICES AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Improving the school’s career services and professional development offerings has been a priority for the school in the last few years, Lane says. In the last 18 months, the university has opened up a new state-of-the-art career services facility in the school’s student union, one that has replaced the old career services office which was located in an old dormitory in a more out-of-the-way area of campus. The university’s career center has a new executive director and Haslam has liaisons within the business school that works directly with the office to find out about opportunities for students, Lane says. Haslam’s professors encourage students to attend job fairs, and many bring in executives to speak to students in class. Lane is hopeful that the new Center for Student Engagement and Success will also help students have more of a home base when it comes to undergraduate advising, international programs, internship and study aboard opportunities.
“This has really been an opportunity for us to improve,” Lane concedes. “Many alums have not been back on campus and seen the new career services building or seen what we’re doing from a holistic perspective at the Center for Student Engagement.”
About 28.6% of Haslam students were engaged in a global immersion, trip or project during their time at the school. That’s a number Lane hopes to see go up with the recent hiring of a new director who will oversee the school’s international and study abroad program, and has ambitious goals for increasing the number of students who participate in study abroad programs, he says.
TOP-SHELF SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT PROGRAM
One of Haslam’s top recruiters are companies like Amazon and Georgia Pacific, which are drawn to undergraduates from Haslam’s supply chain management program, ranked No. 3 in the country by U.S. News & World Report in 2016. Accounting firms also like to hire Haslam students, who had the fourth highest CPA passage rate nationwide among public universities in 2016, according to the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy.
Many students who attend Haslam get to take advantage of the school’s generous financial aid program. For example, 79 percent of the entering class of 2016 received merit- or need-based scholarships, with average scholarships of $12,032. In-state students are also able to take advantage of generous state scholarships that encourage students to stay in Tennessee.
Roschli, the 2014 alum, who said he chose the University of Tennessee over Vanderbilt and Penn State based on the school’s strong value proposition. He received scholarships from the general Tennessee scholarship fund and the state’s lottery-funded Hope scholarships, which about 98% of incoming in-state Haslam freshmen quality for. It cost Roschli about $12,000 a year to attend Haslam, versus around $45,000 a year at Penn State. That made the decision relatively easy for him, he says.
“The state of Tennessee provides a decent chunk of change to keep Tennesseans in Tennessee,” Roschli says. “I was sold.”
WHAT ALUMNI SAY
“I participated in the Global Leadership Scholars program, through which I completed an internship in London while studying abroad for a semester, implemented a new product line into the university bookstore, completed an intensive marketplace simulation, completed an honors undergraduate thesis, and had mentoring sessions with influential CEOs of national/international corporations. These experiences gave me a greater look into the interconnected intricacies of the business world.” – Class of 2014 alum
“Global Leadership Scholars was the most beneficial thing that I could have done for my education and my career. The study abroad experience and exposure to professionals was invaluable. The senior thesis challenged me to apply my learning in a meaningful way.” – Class of 2014 alum
“We went thru a class that was one large business simulation with each class section being split into teams. We took our simulated businesses from formation to maturity in competition against the rest of our section. It was a fantastic experience that allowed us to use every bit of our business knowledge in a realistic, competitive environment.” – Class of 2014 alum
Where the Class of 2016 went to work:
Georgia Pacific: 13
Manhattan Associates: 12
International Paper: 9
UBS Financial Services: 6
21st Mortgage: 5