Union in the News for January 20, 2002
Boom times for the MBA program at Union College
By Online Edition - The Daily Gazette
Schenectady – These are boom times for the graduate program in business administration at Union College.
As the economy has slowed, business schools nationwide are seeing an increase in applicants seeking master's degrees in business administration.
The Graduate Management Admissions Council reports a 12 percent increase in the United States in the number of people taking its standardized tests that are a basic requirement in most MBA programs. Globally the increase is 15 percent.
"This has been a banner year for us," said Sue Lehrman, director of the Graduate Management Institute at Union. "Applications are up 123 percent compared to last year. [The number of] people that inquire about us is up over 50 percent. Enrollments are up 12 percent over this time last year."
While Lehrman says the slowing economy is one factor in the increase, she adds that the school's MBA program last year received national accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate School of Business, making it the third school in the Capital Region to earn that credential.
The University at Albany and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute also have been accredited.
At the University at Albany "capacity...is becoming a problem" in many classes, said Richard Highfield, dean of the School of Business. "We are about at capacity in the number of people who can begin our evening MBA program," he said, while applications for the full-time program also are up.
Rensselaer also has seen an increase in applications, according to Richard Burke, director of master's programs at the Lally School of Management and Technology. As of December, applications were about 10 to 15 percent above last year, he said.
"When the economy gets good, undergraduate enrollment goes up and graduate enrollment goes down," Burke said. The opposite typically happens when the economy softens.
In good times, people will go to work rather than graduate school.
When the economy was booming, "we had a number of students admitted ... and they got a job offer they couldn't resist," said Lehrman of Union.
Often employers would get undergraduate students into cooperative education programs, where they spent part of their time at a job site, then make a job offer to the best ones upon graduation. But the job market isn't nearly as tight as it was a year or two ago.
Now workers may be looking at ways to improve their skills and make them more valuable in an increasingly competitive market for jobs.
"I suspect what's happening is that a lot of people are looking at an MBA as being kind of an insurance policy," Burke said.
Highfield says applications from foreign students are coming in much earlier this year.
"Interested international students know they have to start the visa process earlier," he said. Federal officials have been scrutinizing student visa applications more closely following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The three accredited programs locally have carved out different parts of the market. Union, for example, offers an MBA in healthcare management as well as a general MBA, where students can focus on marketing, international marketing or finance.
The University at Albany specializes in management information systems and human resource information systems, said Highfield. The first is the more technically oriented of the two.
At Rensselaer, the MBA degree emphasizes management technology. Information systems and entrepreneurship also are emphasized.
"Computer World [magazine] ranks us as one of the top 25 technology programs," Burke said.
The dot-com slump has put "some notable bumps in the road" for technology graduates, Burke adds. Still recovery will come. "Technology is not a fad," he says.
Both Lehrman and Burke say that they're getting highly qualified candidates applying. At Rensselaer, average GMAT scores, on a scale from 200 to 800 are in the 620s and 640s, said Burke.
Lehrman said Union is seeing more applicants with scores above 700.
Many of Rensselaer's students are coming in to the classroom with several years of work experience behind them, and "bring a lot of perspective" to classroom discussions, Burke said.
Many of Union's students also have some work experience.
"We like to see it," said Lehrman. But, "we don't demand it. It's not something we require."
At the University at Albany, the full-time MBA program focuses on management technology and information technology. Because technical expertise is more important than work experience, this program targets younger students, according to Highfield.
"The evening program – we're much more mainstream," Highfield said. "We're helping people to advance in a career."
The emphasis is on work experience, and the part-time program draws older students.
Several other Capital Region schools, including The Sage Colleges and the College of Saint Rose, also offer MBAs.
But at least one area college isn't seeing any gains from the new interest in MBA programs.
Siena College, after struggling with the accreditation process and not attracting enough students, decided to suspend its program and hasn't accepted applications in more than a year.
"We decided to focus on the undergraduate programs and do them well," said Thomas Conway, interim dean of Siena's School of Business.
The last of its MBA students will graduate this spring, he said.