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MBA Education Trends: Behind the Numbers

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According to a 2011 fall survey by U.S. News more MBA graduates are landing jobs now than in the past two years — as a reflection of the improving economy. Among 441 business schools surveyed in the study, 78.8 percent of those graduates were hired within three months of graduation; that’s a 4.1 percent growth from the past two years.

Recent national media attention has shifted to people re-tooling and pursuing their entrepreneurial passions after finding themselves displaced from their jobs/careers. They are finding creative ways to utilize/exercise/capitalize their talents and passions into entrepreneurial ventures. I recently discussed these trends with American Public University’s Dean of the School of Business Dr. Chad Patrizi and Program Director of Business Administration Dr. Kathy Irwin.

What are some enrollment trends you’re seeing recently in the School of Business?

Dr. Patrizi: We are noticing that students are entering the business administration programs and choosing a specific concentration. The highest enrolled concentration is the General concentration in the MBA and BBA programs. The next highest enrolled concentration is the Information Technology Management in the MBA program and the Entrepreneurial/Small Business Management concentration in the BBA program. The Entrepreneurial/Small Business Management concentration has four times the students than any other concentration.

 What forces do you believe are influencing these trends?

Dr. Patrizi: I believe what we are seeing is that our students are entering the program with clear-cut career aspirations. They have mapped the business skills they want to learn to the best concentration that fits their development plan.

Dr. Irwin: We continually assess our curriculum and work closely with industry advisory councils. These councils are made up of exceptional leaders from a variety of business disciplines. This, along with our research and benchmarking practices, help us forecast trends and offer concentrations that many professionals are actively seeking. For example, Healthcare Administration is a high-growth sector that requires specialized knowledge and skills. We are monitoring this and other business sectors to gauge demand. By offering diverse concentrations, we are providing more educational opportunities and students are taking advantage of those.

What criteria do you analyze to determine whether a new concentration will be beneficial?

Dr. Irwin: We research and analyze data, but more importantly, we listen to our students. One of the things I love most about APUS is that it feels like a community. It is a place where our students’ voices are heard. We take to heart what they are saying and we provide relevant curricula. Because of our student-focused culture, and the fact that we are online, we are able to make changes quicker than many other institutions. We also provide additional support that enriches student learning. I believe this distinguishes us from other universities.

Can you expand upon the industry advisory council, how often they convene, and what it means in the long run for learners?

Dr. Patrizi: First and foremost, the IAC provides insight to ensure that the business programs are meeting industry needs. An IAC is held annually and is composed of corporate leaders and experts. They are given an open platform to review the programs in the School of Business. The School of Business sponsors to IACs including an IAC for the Accounting programs and an IAC for the Business and Marketing programs. The IAC s provide information to ensure the programs reflect industry needs to better prepare APUS students. In addition to the IACs APUS conducts Triennial Program Reviews where each program is scrutinize in detail in an effort to optimize the quality of each program. In terms of listening to students, APUS conducts End of Course, End of Program and Employment surveys. The alumni survey are taken 1 and 3 years following graduation. This allows us to pinpoint how effective our programs have been as our alumni members apply their education in the field. In fact, we have a number of alumni who return to earn a second or even third degree.

Many private and public MBA programs are launching development partnerships with large firms to train employees online. Why are so many universities now incorporating online learning?

Dr. Patrizi: Despite the recession, companies still face the challenge of attracting, developing, and retaining top talent. Blended and asynchronous learning offers a lot of advantages to both employers and employees alike. By emphasizing education, organizations are more likely to keep their top employees while also bridging major skills gaps. From an employee’s perspective, numerous studies indicate that education and career development rank high when choosing an employer. It also drives discretionary effort because employees feel as though they have opportunity to grow and develop with an organization.

The challenge is finding cost-effective solutions that are flexible and do not interfere with productivity or work-life balance. That is where online learning comes in. Students can take an online course on their own time and their employers do not lose 8 to 10 hours or productivity per week. Instead, they are developing a multi-skilled workforce. It’s a win-win scenario.

You mentioned the popularity of Global Management Studies–how can employees and multinational firms benefit from this type of business concentration?

Dr. Irwin: Global Management Studies is an important field right now because many companies are transitioning to a multinational business model in order to stay competitive. With the proliferation of the Internet and e-commerce, growth lies in international expansion. Business students recognize this trend and many choose Global Management Studies. This helps them to be well-versed and have an in-depth understanding about the key components for conducting business overseas. These people are going to have a strong foundation when it comes to setting up or growing businesses that are not purely domestic. The program attracts individuals who might be interested in traveling to foreign countries, negotiating complex business deals, and managing projects around the world. It is an exciting subject.

Dr. Patrizi: Europe, China, India, and South America are taking prominent roles in the world’s economy, and the demand is growing for employees that have a global business perspective. Employees are adapting to working in a virtual organization, or in international finance, where team members are geographically dispersed. This is good for business, but at the same time, students need to learn how to research and respect different cultures. Our program emphasizes researching case studies and strategies that have worked or even failed in the international arena. This approach helps students understand and navigate common cultural barriers facing multinational firms.

Why is information technology (IT) such a highly desired MBA concentration?

Dr. Irwin: E-commerce, social and interactive media, enterprise systems management–these are expanding disciplines that are quickly changing. They require employees with specialized skills. We’re seeing a large number of current IT professionals who come back to school in order to finish a higher degree. They want additional business skills to lead larger teams and projects. Sometimes an MBA is required for management positions in IT or for lateral transitions. The IT concentration allows them to earn their MBA while still focusing on a familiar subject. Dr. Patrizi: It is clear that IT is the leading concentration in both our undergrad and graduate business programs. The enrollment data is telling us that this concentration, and the fact we provide it entirely online, makes it a natural choice for IT professionals because they thrive at working and learning in the virtual environment. The data also suggests that many of our students want to round out their technical expertise with business management credentials.

If going back to school is part of your development plan, consider the time you have outside of work and whether online education is a viable option. Be sure to check with your human resources group to see if your organization offers educational reimbursement programs.

[Learn more about the online MBA at American Public University. ]

Interview by J. Mason

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