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Sunday, 08 June 2014 22:00

MBA Update: B-schools turn to partnerships, concentrations to propel students’ learning

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Even as more business professionals in West Michigan continue to pursue MBAs and other advanced degrees, universities in the region have yet to experience drastic swings in enrollment.

The reason: There’s been more competition for students over the last five years.

Just as more professionals are seeking degrees, more colleges and universities in the region have started to offer the traditional master of business administration (MBA) degrees, as well as tailored programs and concentrations designed to lure in new enrollment, sources said.

“There are more and more players in the market. The pie gets split up differently,” said Claudia Bajema, director of graduate business programs at the Grand Valley State University Seidman College of Business.

That has B-schools looking differently at their programs and, in some cases, partnering directly with companies to create programs built on existing needs within their organizations. Nowadays, an undergraduate degree is not a prerequisite to gaining entry into an MBA program, Bajema said.

In the case of GVSU, it recently partnered with Spectrum Health to offer its first executive MBA program to provide training to key employees who have been identified for their leadership potential, she added.

“If you look at MBAs, they were actually created for engineers and technical folks, but those technical skills become less important when employers want to know if they can work in groups with people, understand budgets and strategic planning,” said Satish Deshpande, associate dean for graduate programs at the Western Michigan University Haworth College of Business.

There are individuals with soft skills who go after MBAs that will give them technical skills and vice versa, he said.

WMU’s MBA programs are “purely focused on working professionals,” Deshpande said.

“Other schools go after a combination of markets,” he said. “Our MBA student is not someone who just got an undergraduate degree and is going to school full-time for an MBA. … That’s not a market we play in.”

The typical MBA student continues to be a working professional who wants to advance his/her career, not so much to land a job with another company, but rather to move up with his or her current employer, said Frank Novakowski, professor of management at Davenport University and associate dean of the school’s Maine College of Business. A fair percentage of these students are singled out by their employers for their potential to take on leadership roles, he said.

Steady enrollment expected

The average number of students per year enrolled in Davenport’s MBA program is about 2,200, an increase from 2010 when enrollment was at 1,965 students. Novakowski said about 441 new students enroll each year, but added that the numbers have remained steady.

“It’s stayed flat because of how many MBA programs we have now versus 20 years ago,” he said.

WMU’s Haworth College of Business averages about 400 MBA students each fall, and about 100 students enter the program each semester, said Barb Caras-Tomczak, WMU’s MBA program coordinator and an adviser for the Global Business Center.

Increases or decreases in the number of MBA students depends on the nature of industry changes, said WMU’s Deshpande.

For example, when The Upjohn Co. merged with Swedish drug manufacturer Pharmacia and was then taken over by Pfizer Corp., much of that local talent base disappeared.

“There’s been a shift in terms of where people have been coming from,” Deshpande said. “We have students who do a lot of projects at local companies at the undergraduate and graduate level.”

These companies include Whirlpool, Stryker, Kellogg, and Haworth, he said.

“The rationale is that we are in Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids and Battle Creek and we want to be able to leverage the talent companies have there,” Deshpande said. “We offer an in-house MBA program at Parker-Hannifin where we actually go into the plant.”

Meanwhile, enrollment in GVSU’s MBA programs have increased to about 400 students per year, compared to about 212 in 2010. Although people are continuing to go after advanced degrees, Bajema said this does not equate to 350 or 400 new students enrolling each year.

Degrees tailored to students’ needs

Convenience is a much sought-after option for MBA students, many of whom go straight from their offices to the classroom. Having the option of taking online classes is important to MBA students, Davenport’s Novakowski said.

“These are working professionals or vice presidents who don’t want to begin taking classes at 6 o’clock in the evening after working all day,” he said.

To get a piece of the pie of students, B-schools have also developed new areas of concentration, some of which build on a particular area of study such as finance, while others give students the option of getting into a specialized career field.

Last month, WMU announced it was launching an MBA concentration in aviation in conjunction with the university’s College of Aviation. This joins a degree lineup that includes an MBA in law through a partnership with the Thomas M. Cooley Law School with which WMU recently affiliated, as well as an MBA that will be offered to students in WMU’s new medical school.

Deshpande said accelerating a career or gaining expertise in a new area are among the reasons people go back for an MBA. He said a lot of companies continue to provide financial assistance to employees seeking a graduate degree.

Other local programs are targeted at a niche of students wanting an advanced business degree rooted in Christian principles. Cornerstone University offers MBAs in health care, project management, lean manufacturing and finance. The school has rolling enrollment and has anywhere between 170 and 175 MBA students at any given time, said Robert Simpson, associate provost for professional and graduate studies. These enrollment numbers have increased by five students since 2010.

“We look at business from an ethics and values perspective,” Simpson said. “We literally talk about doing business and doing it right.”

Career-focused education

Leaders at the area’s MBA schools said the growth in concentrations will continue as the competition for students ramps up.

These students are also looking for schools that offer concentrations in areas that will be most relevant to their career goals. The emergence of a variety of concentrations has increased competition among schools that offer an MBA, said GVSU’s Bajema.

“The interest in specialty programs has increased tremendously in accounting and finance,” Bajema said. “This is particularly good for people who already have financial expertise. More and more employers are looking for people who can walk in the door and do finance and accounting.”

Like the majority of schools offering MBAs, GVSU works with professionals who bring real work experiences into the classroom. Students are taught by professionals from the business community who draw from their real-world expertise.

“Work experience is very important because the connection between the classroom and the workplace is very important,” Bajema said.

Steelcase, Amway, Meijer, Spectrum Health, and Priority Health are among the businesses partnering with GVSU’s B-school.

“Our corporate partners love these students,” she said.

Read 5963 times Last modified on Sunday, 08 June 2014 22:00

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