September 15, 2008

Gaining the MBA Advantage

By Cardozo, Emily

For professionals trying to distinguish themselves from the pack, a master's degree in business administration (MBA) can be the ideal tool to do so. "The MBA has been and continues to be a primary credential that businesses look for in aspiring managers and leaders," says Frank Mulgrew, director of MBA programs at Post University. "It's a way to differentiate between employees."

As companies become increasingly global and the need for a broader base of skill sets arises, "increasing numbers of people are getting an MBA, and companies are increasingly seeking out people with them," Mulgrew notes.

According to Dr. Henry Hein, interim dean of the School of Business at Southern Connecticut State University, an MBA gives professionals an edge in what is becoming an increasingly "scrappy environment."

"Basic experience was good enough at one time, but not anymore. You need a broader business background because of the complexity and fast-moving pace that people have to live up to today," he points out. "In companies, it's no longer someone telling you what to do. You need an understanding of all aspects of your business, how it works and how you fit in.

"In talking with undergraduates, I've found that large numbers of them feel an MBA will give them an edge in finding a job in this very competitive market. The same is true for practicing professionals. No matter how good you are, you are always going to need rounding and a broader sense of how businesses work."

Differentiating the MBA

While the character of MBA programs may differ slightly from school to school, the element of sharpening professionals' knowledge and skill sets remains a critical component of all programs.

"Businesses have gotten increasingly sophisticated over the years, and certain skills are required to get ahead," says Paul Lerman, dean of the School of Business at the University of Bridgeport. "Leaders need analytical skills, technical skills, an understanding of international business and the ability to network and meet other business people; these are skills that the MBA provides."

A number of area schools ensure that professionals are not short on options for finding a program that suits their needs.

Some schools, such as Southern, have developed an MBA program "to appeal to a generic sort of population," says Hein. "Our students want to move up in their organizations and need broadening and a basic background in business."

However, Hein notes, other students seek to develop more specialized skills. Southern is stepping up to this need by offering specialized tracks within its MBA program. The first of these is an accounting track, which will work "to support the needs of the accounting community in Connecticut," says Hein. Students who have a background in accounting will have the opportunity to become fully licensed as a CPA within this track.

While some business schools are distinguished by their offerings, others also have unique character based on the students they serve. The MBA program at the University of Bridgeport, for example, stands apart in its multicultural focus.

"We have a very sizable international student body; our students come from 80 different countries," says Lerman. "With the increasing internationalization of business, there is a critical need for professionals to have the ability to deal with people in different cultures. As students work on projects together, they gain an understanding of how other cultures operate."

In addition to boasting a diverse student body, the University of Bridgeport is working to establish an international faculty. Lerman notes the university recently signed an agreement with schools in China for a faculty exchange program, for example. "We're going to be hiring faculty that can complement the international exposure here," he says.

Lerman, a highly experienced professional who only recently took up his post as dean, is also in the process of developing additional programs in finance, accounting and health management. "I've been talking to industry and business leaders in the community to see if our program meets their needs, and if we can hone it to further meet their needs," he notes.

According to Mulgrew, Post University's relatively new MBA program gives it a competitive edge. "Because it's new, we've been able to learn what has and hasn't worked," he says. "We've been able, to step back and say, 'Where has business in the U.S. been going?' And it's clearly in the direction of innovation, of creativity, of what new value we can create."

In response to this, Post's MBA program is focused on innovation, which is where the university sees the country's industry and service sectors heading in the future. "In this country, there's an emphasis on what you can create that's new," Mulgrew says. "We will be able to compete based on what we can create."

The online MBA program at Post, he adds, appeals to students not only because it addresses the innovation trend, but because "people are feeling crunched financially" and are seeking a convenient, affordable, quality program.

"We're trying to keep relevant with where our students' minds are," he says. "MBA programs should have a great return on investment; they don't have to be so expensive. At Post, someone can spend less than $20,000 on an MBA that is extremely relevant."

The University of New Haven (UNH) and Quinnipiac University pride themselves on offering a variety of MBA tracks for professionals to suit their personal career needs.

Along with the traditional MBA, for example, the University of New Haven offers an Executive Master of Business Administration for experienced, full-time managers; an MBA for Emerging Leaders; and an MBA/MPA, a dual degree program for those focused on both the public and private sectors of the economy.

Those who opt for UNH's traditional MBA can expect "a strong focus on leadership, teamwork and integrative management activities," the university's website states. "The program offers flexibility, providing choices within the advanced courses and a variety of functional concentrations."

Quinnipiac University's offerings include a traditional MBA as well as an MBA/Chartered Financial Analyst Track; MBA/Healthcare Management; MBA/Juris Doctorate; a Combined BA/MBA; and a Combined BS/MBA.

Distinguished institutions such as Fairfield University and Sacred Heart University have demonstrated a consistent commitment to excellence in their MBA programs. The program at Fairfield University's Charles F. Dolan School of Business, for example, has the elite distinction of being accredited by AACSB International - only 25 percent of all business schools are so recognized.

"We have achieved this recognition because of the success that we have had in educating students to be successful and responsible business leaders dedicated to pursuing excellence," notes Dean Norman A. Solomon, Ph.D.

At Sacred Heart's John F. Welch College of Business, an international faculty of scholars and business executives combine with a hands-on MBA program that "fosters the development of analytical, communication and leadership skills that will help its graduates execute creative business solutions from a global perspective," states Christopher C. York, acting director of the MBA program.

Sacred Heart University's MBA curriculum is "designed to respond to today's business environment - one that is increasingly global and in need of socially responsible and ethical decision makers and leaders."

Institutions recognize that working adults have other priorities, and many offer flexible programs that utilize the experience professionals bring to the table. In the New Dimensions Degree Completion Program at Albertus Magnus College, for example, the MBA program "provides the opportunity to profit from practical work- related experiences through a unique and intensive method of collaborative learning and student interaction," the school's website states.

The Albertus program "has as its hallmark the exploration and study of ethical issues applicable to concepts, cases and in- practice experiences inherent throughout the course sequence, as well as the concept that team-based effort is an important aspect of organizational success."

Responding to Business Trends

With a constantly shifting business landscape, schools are challenged to provide MBA programs that are relevant and meet the needs of various industries. "Any responsible MBA program listens to what the business world wants from the MBA," says Mulgrew. "We need to be responsive to what industries are interested in."

In addition to addressing the trend of increasing globalization, schools such as the University of Bridgeport are working to meet the business world's need for more well-rounded professionals.

"The emphasis today is on soft skills, rather than just technical skills," says Lerman. "The business community wants people who can think critically and analytically, who can work in teams and function in a changing environment."

Mulgrew adds, "MBA programs were traditionally all about efficiency. Now you're seeing organizations flattening, communication becoming more critical; we're hearing that we no longer need a person who can make sure that the cogs in a machine are all operating efficiently. While that's still important, there are other skills that we need to sharpen."

The ability to think outside the box, for example, is a skill that many MBA programs, such as the one at Post University, have begun to hone.

According to its website, the Albertus MBA program likewise "serves a wide range of managers in organizations large and small, particularly those who need to acquire or develop analytical and creative problem-solving skills, thus enabling them to make more effective contributions to the workplace."

It may well be that the well-rounded professional will be the one to emerge successful in this volatile economic environment. While some are satisfied bemoaning the economic downturn, those who are actively working to sharpen their skills and maintain their edge may be the ones who are most well prepared for what lies ahead.

Hein, for one, is confident that these professionals will help the economy survive and even thrive, both on the state and on the national level.

With all of our economic problems and difficulties, what encourages me is taking a look at this population of students who have a genuine hunger to make things better, who are actively trying to find new and better ways to do things," he explains. This gives me tremendous hope for the future of the economy."

Copyright New Haven Business Times Aug 2008

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