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April 25, 2016 Focus: Education

CCSU aims to lift business-school profile

PHOTO | Contributed Students in a School of Business Management & Organization class taught by David Freeman, Distinguished Professor of International Business and former CEO of Lydall Inc. and of Loctite. Freeman is not in the photo.

Despite an already crowded market, Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) is ramping up its graduate business education program, adding several new degrees in recent years to lure away working professionals from surrounding schools.

It started in 2014 when CCSU launched its first MBA program and earned national accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). In March, the school announced it was launching a master's of science degree in accounting.

Ken Colwell, dean of CCSU's School of Business, said the New Britain-based public university is confident it can take on bigger name Connecticut schools — Quinnipiac University, the University of Hartford and UConn — by selling the value of its degrees.

CCSU's per-credit graduate rate is $577 vs. $985 at Quinnipiac and $724 at UConn for full-time students, he said, adding the price discount doesn't come absent quality. CCSU now boasts the same AACSB accreditation, which requires institutions to meet rigorous quality standards, as other Connecticut schools including Fairfield, Quinnipiac, Sacred Heart, UConn, Yale, and the universities of Hartford and New Haven.

“That is a validation that the quality of education, professors and resources we bring to bear … are of the same caliber of competing schools,” he said.

Building awareness

Colwell said marketing of its graduate business degrees is initially targeting CCSU grads, who made up the bulk of the school's first MBA classes.

“The key is awareness. We don't have a huge marketing budget. It's difficult. Once you get the word out there, people start coming in,” he said.

CCSU's attempt to boost the profile of its business school comes amid tough and changing times in the industry. A 2014 Bloomberg News report said that some U.S. business schools could fail in the coming years, especially private institutions without established reputations, because of declining full-time enrollments and a move to more online education.

Grad students, typically in the midst of building careers, no longer want to waste time on or even drive to campus, forcing schools to invest more in online education opportunities.

Quinnipiac School of Business Dean Matthew O'Connor said private universities like his are staying competitive by offering flexibility as well as specialized master's degrees.

The Hamden school launched a master's in business analytics two years ago, hoping to attract professionals from two large Connecticut industries that rely on that skill set: financial services and larger banks.

Studying jobs reports

Both Quinnipiac and CCSU rely heavily on jobs projections to determine their degree offerings. Cowell said the graying of the accounting workforce made it logical to create the master's in accounting.

O'Connor said the same was done at Quinnipiac with the creation of the business analytics degree.

“We typically do a lot of research before we start a new program. It's not trivial to get a new program off the ground,” O'Connor said.

Proving a need

Any public university graduate degree program in Connecticut needs approval by the Board of Regents for Higher Education. Dr. Estela R. López, interim provost and senior vice president for the Regents, said CCSU needed to prove its program had a need and could be competitive in a time of declining resources.

López said other issues the board looks at is if the campus has the infrastructure, faculty and other resources to support the program. And at least among public universities, the program has to be funded through tuition and self sustaining.

“At times like this where budgets are tight, you don't want to approve programs that require capital,” she said.

The provost added that diminishing resources doesn't mean the Regents system stops creating programs. “Part of it is looking at different sectors that are not coming to our institutions and can bring in tuition revenue,” she said.

CCSU's Colwell wouldn't divulge the exact cost but said the university was able to create its new master's in accounting program for less than $500,000, including the cost of two new faculty and hiring adjunct instructors.

Hybrid model of education

Meantime, successful business graduate programs are moving towards a hybrid model of in-class and online education. Dan LeClair, AACSB's chief operating officer, said technology is shaping the way programs are delivered, giving rise to new competitors to traditional graduate programs.

Another trend CCSU is considering to remain competitive is the combined undergraduate/graduate track. Cowell said he could see the master's in accounting become a four-plus one program, where students, if academically eligible, complete their degree in five years.

At Quinnipiac, students in May are completing a master's in four years for the first time. O'Connor said it was a recognition of saving students money as well as challenging higher-achieving students who were coming to school with advanced placement credits.

“We've really tried to take a look at where the markets are going and pivot to make some long-term investments in the types of programs that are going to be appealing,” O'Connor said.

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