Business degrees are seen as those with a clear, strong career path, which makes them appealing to families, said Dan LeClair, executive vice president and chief strategy and innovation officer for the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
Business education by the numbers
Here's a look at enrollment numbers across the nation, collected by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business from more than 400 institutions, as well as from its six Northeast Ohio members: the University of Akron, Baldwin Wallace University, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, John Carroll University and Kent State University.
Undergraduate enrollment, U.S.
Master's enrollment, U.S.
Doctoral enrollment, U.S.
Undergraduate enrollment, Northeast Ohio
Master's enrollment, Northeast Ohio
Doctoral enrollment, Northeast Ohio
Source: The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business
While competition for enrollees is still fierce, business schools and colleges have done well in recent years.
Business degrees are seen as those with a clear, strong career path, which makes them appealing to families, said Dan LeClair, executive vice president and chief strategy and innovation officer for the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. On the master's side, full-time MBA programs in the U.S. have faltered, but part-time, executive or specialized programs have been going strong.
But as businesses have been changed by forces like globalization and increased technology, so must the schools teaching students how to run them.
That's certainly the case in Northeast Ohio. The University of Akron recently announced plans to build a Professional Development Center to house the college's efforts to help students gain the soft skills employers seek. Kent State University is in the process of selecting a development team to construct a new building for its College of Business Administration, a flagship project for its ambitious new master facilities plan. And John Carroll University last week announced a $10 million gift that was helping it turn its business school into a business college: the John M. and Mary Jo Boler College of Business, to be exact.
Universities are realizing this is a "critical time" as business education is being redefined, and are making investments to support those changes, LeClair said.
The business school has been growing in importance at University Heights-based John Carroll, with more than one-third of the university's students enrolled there, said Alan Miciak, the John M. Boler dean of the new Boler College of Business.
Figures provided by John Carroll show interest growing in the business school in terms of applications and deposits made by students to ensure enrollment. And those increases were happening at a greater rate than they were universitywide.
Turning the school into a college — only the university's second — is one way to recognize that importance, while also attracting new talent to the university, Miciak said.
Miciak said there are a number of big drivers of change in the marketplace, leading to the need for evolved schools. One is the generational changes in the students the Boler College will be teaching. Millennials and members of Generation Z tend to look at the intersection of business, society and individuals differently than previous generations, he said. They're more interested in balancing profit and purpose. And the companies that would be hiring these graduates are operating in a more global world with changing technology and concerns of environmental sustainability. Students need to be prepared for all of those factors.
"The speed at which we have to change is increasing a lot," Miciak said.
Rather than sweeping changes, Cleveland State University has been looking for ways to add additional value to its curriculum offerings. Sanjay Putrevu was named dean of the Monte Ahuja College of Business a little more than a year ago, and one of the first things he did was start to look for industries the college could better serve in the local economy.
For example, the college is looking into the possibility of creating a certificate focused on health care administration. Doctors and nurses learn how to treat people, but many of them have to serve as small business owners, too, he said.
"We don't teach them how to manage," Putrevu said.
So far, the initiatives that have been started in the past year along those lines have been funded by donors — like the Weston Ideation Lab for education around entrepreneurship and the Bernie Moreno Center for Sales Excellence — but Putrevu said that's not a necessity.
John Carroll is funding its new school and the programs it plans to establish under it through a $25 million capital campaign called the Inspired Lives Campaign. The campaign was launched with a $10 million gift from the Boler Family Foundation and about $5 million from board members. The campaign will help John Carroll establish the School of Accountancy and Information Science and the School of Leadership and Social Innovation, as well as a program in finance and capital markets and other supports for the new college. Miciak said the university didn't anticipate needing any new construction, but rather planned to redevelop existing spaces.
Akron and Kent State also planned to significantly fund their business college expansions with donations.
Kent State is taking on the construction of a new College of Business Administration building as part of its comprehensive master facilities plan, and it's aiming to build the new business building without taking on any debt. Part of the expectation on the teams competing for the contract is that they will include some element of philanthropy in their designs.
Part of the need for a new building is space constraints, said business administration college dean Deborah Spake. The college has grown so much over time that students are being taught not only in the existing business building, but in buildings across campus.
But the other part is that the old building, built in the '70s, isn't designed for how business is taught today. The classrooms tend to be set in a tiered structure with desks fixed to the ground, a setup that isn't conducive to the collaborative teamwork approach often encouraged today.
The University of Akron has not seen the enrollment boost many business colleges have in recent years, as it has seen a drop in line with its overall decline in university enrollment. But the university is still investing in its business administration college.
Akron's $5.2 million Professional Development Center primarily will be paid for with private funds. The two-story center will take up almost 15,000 square feet and will include everything from interview rooms for employers to a business analytics lab to a study abroad center. And while this is professional development for students, there is also space earmarked for community professional development events like conferences or seminars, said College of Business Administration dean Ravi Krovi.
About five or so years ago, the college began putting a stronger focus on what it calls professional development for students in the business school, in addition to experiential learning and academic curriculum, Krovi said.
"We started talking about what are the things that we should be teaching our students, which we cannot teach in the classroom," Krovi said.
Competencies like leadership development, teamwork and communication were priorities that rose to the top, and the university started a leadership institute. Today, the university offers the comprehensive, voluntary program Edge, or Exploring Degree Goals and Experiences, for students across campus. Students get points for activities like attending workshops or taking part in an internship. And students who earn more than 2,000 points can graduate with CBA Edge honors.
This new building grew out of these programming efforts, as these different programs were physically scattered across the college. The new center will serve as a "one-stop shop" for students, Krovi said.
"I think employers in general are looking for students who are more well-rounded and who are better critical thinkers and are better communicators," Krovi said. "That's the biggest change you're seeing."
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