Anthony Loviscek

The Value of an MBA

Even in a struggling economy, employers and employees still see the benefits in an MBA.

While some of today’s students might question the value of investing in higher education — since a degree no longer guarantees a job — many New Jerseyans are reaping the benefits of a master of business administration (MBA) from a number of Garden State colleges and universities.

The hidden power of today’s MBA is that the state’s institutions of higher education are constantly amending and reshaping their educational programs and curriculum based upon the ever-changing demands of the marketplace, and the needs of local employers.

“We’ve made some major revisions to our MBA program based upon what we’re hearing from local corporations, what we’re seeing in the marketplace, and what our faculty felt needed to change in order for our students to be successful in today’s economy,” says John Farrell, assistant dean for graduate and professional programs in the college of business administration at Rider University in Lawrenceville. For many schools, that means continually introducing new topics, refocusing the curriculum, and making sure that the skill sets students are developing in the classroom will help them compete upon graduation. “When you have that MBA, an employer will have a certain expectation as to the kinds of skills and knowledge base you’ll be able to bring to their organization,” Farrell adds.

For Rider, some of those newer courses revolve around concepts like managerial thinking and business analytics. “We believe there are a lot of topics that are essential to helping students understand their functions as a manager … and no matter what your job and what your industry, you need to know numbers, from key performance indicators to transfer pricing,” he says. “So, we did our part to bring our MBA up-to-date based upon what we were hearing from large and small corporations.”

Another burgeoning business course at several of the state’s colleges and universities is supply chain management. According to Dr. Daniel J. McFarland, interim dean for the Rohrer College of Business at Rowan University in Glassboro, although majors and specializations in traditional courses of study like accounting or finance continue to explode nationwide, both undergraduate and graduate programs are embracing the need for students to be trained in up-and-coming areas like supply chain management — and all while developing business management skills that can apply to any field.  “Our focus is on application … taking a concept in the classroom and applying that to a real challenge businesses are facing,” explains Dr. James G. Almeida, interim dean for the Silberman College of Business at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck. “It’s our job to provide students with skill sets that will help them build their careers for years to come, from analysis and decision-making to understanding the latest innovations and changes in the business world.”

That’s where business advisory boards come in. Comprised of business professionals who serve as mentors for college students and valuable sources of information on the qualities and skills local employers are seeking, these individuals help bridge the gap between the classroom and the “real world” in an MBA program. “[We] have an advisory board for every major discipline area, and our board members help us update our curriculum and identify important area of skill development,” explains Dr. Joyce A. Strawser, dean of the Stillman School of Business at Seton Hall University in South Orange.

Many colleges and universities also partner directly with local industry; for example, Rowan’s Rohrer College of Business Incubator at the South Jersey Technology Park provides an opportunity for students to try their hand at solving real-world problems for the incubator’s residents, and receive a unique vantage point into the skills they’ll need to succeed in today’s business world. “It’s mutually beneficial: the businesses benefit from the expertise of our faculty and the ambition of our students, and the university gets an opportunity to see the trends, the concerns and the needs that our students will have to meet,” McFarland says.

One of the latest trends is for MBA students to seek specializations in their studies, and Rowan is responding by facilitating collaborations between its schools, such as an MBA with a healthcare management focus or a new concentration in data analytics. The university recently acquired a school of osteopathic medicine, which is also helping to prepare business students who are looking to take advantage of the region’s proximity to major pharmaceutical companies and other healthcare-related corporations.

Other universities are turning their focus outside the borders of New Jersey and preparing their MBA students with a global education. At Kean University in Union, a board of advisors across the United States and continents including Europe, Asia and South America, serve as the mouthpiece for what is going on in the marketplace worldwide. “Our business school has seen a lot of transformation,” says Dr. Michael R. Cooper, dean of the college of business and public management at Kean University. “We are actively building up our global presence in order to meet the needs of the corporate world.” With its own full-scale American campus in China, approximately 70 percent of Kean’s students are pursing business degrees. “What I’ve learned is that there are so many US-based, multi-national corporations that are looking for students who have global experience and know the unique management, culture and history of a company when it has offices and employees and clients in other parts of the world,” he adds.

In turn, many of the state’s institutions of higher education are seeing an influx of international applicants to their business programs. Seton Hall University has developed educational articulation agreements with universities in China, and continues to expand its outreach into other countries. “Part of the MBA is about developing those cutting-edge skills and capabilities that today’s managers must have, especially when the employee base may be distributed across the country, vendors are sourced from different continents, and you’re trying to attract customers from all over the world … understanding the complexity of all these issues and being able to see the big picture is a crucial skill to possess,” Almeida agrees.

The MBA has also had to adapt to meet the needs of the working professional. While undergraduates typically have more time to devote to their studies, many of those seeking an MBA have already gotten their feet wet in the corporate world, and may still be holding a full-time job and juggling the demands of a family while pursuing an advanced degree. That’s where schools like Ramapo come in: the university’s MBA program is in its third year, and offers a 20-month program for working professionals. “We wanted to create a truly integrated learning experience; we wanted connectivity between our courses to help students succeed in any industry, any job function and in any type of senior management position,” says Dr. Lewis M. Chakrin, dean of the Anisfield School of Business at Ramapo College in Mahwah.  Most MBA programs offer options for their working students in the form of online MBA courses and programs, while others have devoted programs to assist these students on their path towards an advanced degree; Rutgers University offers a flex program for either part-time or full-time studies, while Fairleigh Dickinson University provides an MBA program with classes held exclusively on Saturdays.

The benefit for MBA students is that the sacrifice might be well worth the reward: not only are they enhancing their skill sets based upon the knowledge of their professor, but every classroom contains a built-in network of business professionals in a range of industries who can share their unique insights and real-life experiences. “Approximately 70 percent of our students are working professionals who study on a part-time basis, which makes the classroom dynamic and more engaging … students are able to share their own perspectives and experiences on the subject at hand,” Strawser says. “We are fortunate to have students from many of the leading companies in the New York metropolitan area, and it’s not uncommon for some of our students to hire or refer peers whom they’ve met in the program.”

Meanwhile, business programs are consistently adapting to the skills that students will need upon re-entering the business world in search of higher-level positions. “We have to be extremely sensitive to rapidly-changing business environments, so we regularly change our elective courses, from social media marketing to project management,” Chakran says. “We have to keep rotating our courses in response to what we see changing in the market, and to provide students with the skills they’ll need to compete for those senior management positions.”

For the most part, many of the state’s MBA students are seeking those higher-level roles in their current companies. According to Chakrin, more than 90 percent of students enrolled in the MBA program at Ramapo are working professionals, and the majority are looking to advance within those companies. “There are some students looking to change careers, or want to specialize in a different area, but, for the most part, they’re happy right where they are — they just want the tools and the skills that will allow them to become leaders within their organizations,” he explains. “I’ve seen many students who completed the program and were promoted right away, or they successfully changed careers … it’s not just about the degree, but the confidence they now have to take what they’ve learned and advance their careers.”

On the other hand, some professionals are utilizing the MBA as an important tool in a desired career change. According to Dr. Sharon R. Lydon, associate dean and executive director for the MBA Program at Rutgers Business School in Newark and New Brunswick, many of the university’s MBA students have already earned degrees in fields ranging from the liberal arts to engineering, and now want to change careers entirely. “We play an important role in helping to facilitate that process … we listen to our employers, and we get to know our students really well, so we know when a good match can be made,” she says. In fact, the university was listed as No. 8 in MBA employment nationwide by US News & World Report this year. “Whether students are looking for the knowledge and the work experience to land a new job, or a promotion in their current field, more and more people are realizing just how necessary the MBA has become for either changing your career course or securing those leadership roles and senior positions,” Lydon adds.

Indeed, what it all boils down to is the value of the MBA in today’s marketplace. Amidst a still struggling economy, those looking to pursue senior positions have to consider whether or not the investment in a higher education degree is going to pay off in the end. And the state’s colleges and universities are confident that there’s still a lot of benefit in pursuing an MBA. “We find that employers still value the MBA credential. In a competitive field of job seekers, it helps to distinguish applicants from other candidates who may not have an advanced degree,” Strawser says. “Many of our MBA graduates tell us that they’re able to leverage knowledge that they acquire in our program to help their supervisors become familiar with new technologies and practices, including techniques related to social media, digital marketing and data analytics.”

“The MBA has always had an enduring appeal. People know what those three letters mean, and what an individual who has that credential is going to bring to the table,” Almeida concludes. “That’s the appeal of the MBA, and I don’t think it’s going to change anytime soon.”

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