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September 28, 2015 Focus: Higher Education

CT's MBA programs get a re-make

PHOTO | Pablo Robles Martin Roth, dean, Barney School of Business at the University of Hartford.
Matthew O’Connor, dean, School of Business, Quinnipiac University
Jason Snyder, MBA program director and associate to the business school dean, Central Connecticut State University

Scheduling flexibility. Online availability. Subject concentrations. International trips. Dual degrees. Accelerated studies. Coaching and networking.

They're among the buzzwords and offerings Connecticut universities pitch as they strive to stand out in the competitive MBA marketplace.

Universities also are tweaking courses to ensure their relevancy to employers' needs in the dynamic economy. Like business, business schools need to be nimble on their feet, education experts say.

“We have tried to adapt the (MBA) program to meet the increasingly complex demands that students have on their time, both professionally and personally,” said Martin Roth, dean of the Barney School of Business at the University of Hartford. “People are doing more telecommuting, people are working nontraditional hours, it's not just a 9-to-5 world anymore. People are engaged in a lot more team and project-based work that often requires them to engage with colleagues or business partners in different time zones so they have to be on call during nontraditional hours. For all of those reasons, we want to try to provide students with as much flexibility as we can.”

That includes offering courses online or in the classroom, whichever a student needs or prefers. It's all about flexibility and quality, with online courses taught by the same faculty using the same syllabus and objectives, Roth said.

“Our approach is any given semester, when we offer a course, we're going to make as many of those courses available in both formats, so students choose how they want to engage with us,” Roth said. “The only thing that differs is the way that we deliver that content.”

Flexibility takes other forms, too, like accelerated coursework. The University of Connecticut, for example, offers an MBA in 16 or 21 months, said Meg Warren, director of the full-time MBA program at the School of Business.

A redesign of UConn's full-time MBA curriculum taking effect this fall allows first-year students to take some electives to help finish in 16 months and reduce time away from work. The program requires at least two years of work experience. The exception is for dual-degree programs, for example, earning a law degree simultaneously with an MBA.

University of Hartford offers similar accelerated graduate programs for students earning dual degrees, like an MBA and master's of science in accounting and taxation or combining an MBA with a master's of engineering.

“The other thing that we've been working on is providing students options to work on specializations if they so choose [including] bundling together groups of courses to give students an opportunity to really do a deep dive” into a subject area, Roth said, citing finance, business analytics and management as examples.

The school also is designing new concentrations for the MBA program in collaboration with the engineering school for project management and supply chain management, effective next year, Roth said.

Curriculum refresh

UConn's newly designed full-time MBA program curriculum is the latest in a change that occurs about every five to six years to keep pace with the job market, Warren said.

“This new curriculum is very quantitatively focused,” Warren said. “We're really going to drill down deep into three deep quantitative areas,” including business analytics, digital marketing strategy, and financial analysis and investments, the latter including three subspecialties of real estate, portfolio management and insurance and healthcare finance.

The curriculum is quantitative focused because that's what the job market is looking for and that's where UConn's faculty has deep academic and industry backgrounds, Warren said.

Meantime, Quinnipiac University launched a revised MBA curriculum last year that puts more emphasis on integration across business disciplines, said Matthew O'Connor, dean of the School of Business. Quinnipiac is trying to develop business leaders who have a more holistic view of business, not just a disciplinary view of it, he said.

A second emphasis is on decision making, ensuring students aren't just learning facts, figures and theories, but applying them and practicing decision making within the curriculum, he said.

Quinnipiac has also put a stronger emphasis on preparing students for a global economy.

As part of the redesign, Quinnipiac also tweaked its MBA program specializations. It offers tracks in healthcare management, supply-chain management and finance.

“We really do think those specializations speak to today's economy, especially in the Northeast, and we think they set us apart from other schools,” O'Connor said.

Quinnipiac's full-time MBA students are required to do an international experience, usually up to a two-week trip with visits to six to 10 companies, he said.

“The feedback from the trips and from the students is they're often extremely life-changing experiences,” O'Connor said. “They're really getting to interact with high-level businesspeople from different companies in an international setting and seeing how business is conducted and practiced from a totally different cultural and geographic landscape.”

New player

Central Connecticut State University's MBA program is entering its second year and is part-time only, with each course a blend of online and classroom, said Jason Snyder, MBA program director and associate to the business school dean. For example, a class that meets 16 times would include eight classroom sessions and eight online, he said.

“One of the other competing demands that MBA programs have to think about is that one of the best predictors of student success is contact hours with a faculty member,” Snyder said. “As great as technology is, there's only so much that can be replaced to get that whole experience,” which is part of the reason CCSU chose an in-class/online hybrid model. The school, though, has piloted some online-only courses, realizing not everyone can always be on campus.

CCSU's MBA program has two specializations: accounting and business analytics, which is a hot area right now, Snyder said.

“In an MBA program we're not creating data scientists, but we are creating managers who understand how to analyze big data and how to use it to make business decisions,” he said.

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