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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Masters of Change: MBA Programs Adjust

When international student Inna Chukhajyan first decided to transfer from her master of business Administration program at Webster University in Missouri to one in California, she was looking for several things.

First, she wanted a school that would provide an opportunity for her to gain real-world experience, a key component she said was missing from her Missouri program.

“In Missouri, all I was doing was attending lectures,” said Chukhajyan. “It was not what I expected, and given that I want to get a job in business in the U.S. after I graduate, I need to work on real-life projects.”

There were other considerations, including the potential for financial assistance and the institution’s willingness to allow her to continue her academic journey seamlessly as a transfer student, bypassing the need for her to begin her studies from ground zero and enabling her to retain the credits she acquired at Webster University.

She found all three at the School of Business at Woodbury University in Burbank, which offered a smooth transition, hands-on experience and a generous merit-based scholarship of $18,000 to offset the $43,000 tuition.

“The MBA program offers a wide range of courses, including one where I was able to work with the Burbank Chamber of Commerce. This hands-on experience not only deepened my understanding of business dynamics but also allowed me to apply classroom knowledge to practical scenarios, honing my problem-solving skills and preparing me for the challenges of the business world,” said Chukhajyan.

“I also attended the HACU (Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities) conference in Washington, D.C., with the director of the program, Satinder Dhiman, where I got the chance to meet and hear from members of governmental agencies, senators, professors and U.S. students,” said Chukhajyan. “I learned about some exciting job options within the government agencies and made a lot of connections that I believe will be very helpful in finding a job.”

Chukhajyan’s not sure what she will do when she graduates in December, but the Armenian native said she does plan to return home in the future and use her skill set to benefit the Armenian economy and the overall business sphere.

“My country is still developing, and they need help from people like me, who have gained work experience in an international market,” she said.

Increasing competition

While Chukhajyan’s situation is unique, her willingness to search out an MBA program that met her specific needs is not.

According to Dhiman, Woodbury University School of Business associate dean and MBA program director, in this post-Covid world, competition among MBA programs is increasing.

“The pandemic caused the world to question the value of many things, including the importance of higher education, especially when it comes to the need to obtain a master’s degree or a Ph.D.,” said Dhiman. “Students want to know that the financial cost will be worth it, and universities must find new ways to demonstrate value-added by reinventing their programs.”

In fact, while the MBA program has seen enrollment decrease, including its international population, from pre-pandemic times when there were 20 to 25 new students each fall, Dhiman said the numbers are beginning to stabilize as educators continue to unveil new options for enrollees.

Adding value

Woodbury’s MBA program began pivoting during the pandemic, with three new areas of concentration – entrepreneurship, sustainability and entertainment – added in September 2020, said Dhiman.

“Two of these areas, entrepreneurship and sustainability, have now become even more vital in the wake of the pandemic, as more people seek autonomy in the form of owning their own business and concern for the environment is growing with fears of accelerating climate change,” said Dhiman.

He said the MBA program encompasses 12 streamlined courses that are carefully selected and include an optimal blend of skills-based – both hard and soft – courses.

Students with a bachelor’s degree in business administration can graduate within a year if they attend on a full-time basis. Those who enter with a non-business undergraduate degree take an extra semester to complete the program.

Classes are offered during the evenings Monday through Thursday in a combination of in-person, online and blended modes.

While a majority of Woodbury’s domestic MBA students are already working, international students have the option of curricular practical training to acquire work experience.

This fall, the school of business unveiled its revamped Master of Organizational Leadership degree, with an added focus on self-leadership, DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion), and a hands-on Capstone Leadership Project. The one-year cohort program is designed for mid- to upper-level executives in the service industry.

Students pursuing both degrees are eligible for merit-based scholarships, including up to $20,000 for those starting in the MBA program.

“Woodbury University’s MBA signifies three tenets: Responsible leadership, sustainable business and self-empowerment,” said Dhiman. “With generous merit scholarships, it provides an affordable private-school MBA with a work-compatible and practice-based curriculum.”

A different perspective

Unlike Woodbury, Thousand Oaks-based California Lutheran University has seen an uptick in enrollment as more undergraduates take advantage of its 4+1 MBA option, which allows students to save time by taking three graduate-level courses while they are undergraduates.

According to Kyle McIntosh, director of the School of Management’s Executive MBA, MBA and master’s in management programs, the 4+1 program can shave off more than $8,100 from the MBA base tuition of about $41,000.

McIntosh said CLU has seen growth across all three programs when comparing the fall of last year to this year. There are currently about 250 students enrolled collectively.

While the MBA program has seen single-digit growth, he said incoming classes for the other programs are showing strong growth relative to the prior year.

However, McIntosh said there has been a drop in international enrollees over the last five years.

“The pandemic hurt MBA enrollment for international students,” said McIntosh. “While we have seen some improvements, we are still down significantly compared to pre-pandemic levels.”

Flexibility remains a key goal of educators; the executive MBA degree is offered in a hybrid format with 50% of the courses online and 50% delivered in a weekend-intensive format. MBA and MSM students can choose between taking courses online or in person.

Recent curriculum updates include a two-course sequence in business analytics. Additionally, a brand new financial technology course became available this fall.

CLU has also reopened its Oxnard campus for MBA and MSM students.

In the past two years, the School of Management raised over $10,000 to launch a People(s) of Color Scholarship. By the end of the current academic year, McIntosh said CLU will have awarded $2,500 apiece to five graduate students from underrepresented backgrounds.

In addition, the School of Management has partnered with The Colleges of Law in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties to offer their graduate students the opportunity to take business courses as part of their law degree programs. Colleges of Law students who complete four MBA courses can earn a Certificate of Business Operations from CLU.

“A large part of our focus continues to be hiring world-class adjuncts with powerful networks in Ventura County,” said McIntosh. “We work every day to partner with local corporations to create job opportunities for students.

“While some question the merit of a graduate business degree, we see students making solid career progress on a daily basis,” McIntosh added. “Students recognize, and I believe that our recent growth shows, that MBA and MSM degrees are highly valued by employers.”

Other schools

Malibu-based Pepperdine Graziadio Business School has seen an even bigger boost in its enrollment numbers, with Dean Deborah Crown noting a 20% increase across its full-time, part-time and executive MBA programs compared to last fall.

“Our programs provide a high-touch, high-tech environment for students, allowing them to utilize today’s tools to find new ways to look at and solve the problems facing organizations while simultaneously providing high-touch experiences and relationship building,” said Crown. “Some of our faculty members also have expertise in the AI space, allowing for discussions about its current and future usefulness and challenges in the workplace.”

Graduates have access to a robust network of approximately 47,000 alums, who work across a variety of business sectors, said Crown.

Students have the opportunity to participate in the business school’s Education to Business learning program, in which they are connected with executives to address complex issues facing today’s organizations.

They can also earn academic credit by taking part in one of Pepperdine’s weeklong Global Business Intensives.

“These opportunities can be domestic or international,” said Crown. “In a typical year, we may send 200 students to different countries, where through a combination of classroom learning, company visits and cultural activities they gain business competency at a location around the globe.”

In response to the changes in the post-pandemic workplace, Crown said this fall the school re-launched its part-time MBA program as a hybrid MBA for working professionals.

It also features a new option to specialize in health care management.

Part-time MBA students can expect to pay about $87,062 for tuition after merit awards. Without merit awards, the cost is $106,340.

“The program preserves a student’s personal connections, while providing the convenience and flexibility necessary for the student to complete the degree,” said Crown.

The part-time evening MBA program at CSUN David Nazarian College of Business and Economics in Northridge has also seen a major bump in enrollment since May 2020, said director Kristen Walker. 

“We were around 100 when I took over, and now we have to close to 190 students,” said Walker, who attributes a large part of the growth to the return to in-person classes.

“I believe our students find it comforting that we are still a primarily in-person program,” said Walker. “That does not mean that some of our courses are not hybrid, but for the most part our students can interact with one another.”

Students now have the option to take a number of new electives, including Societal Bias and Business Impact, Developing and Managing Socio-Tech Ventures and Digital Business Models – Strategic Use of Information.

This fall the school debuted a master’s in business analytics degree that Walker said had strong application interest, high admission numbers and shows continued promise for the future.

MBA students can take courses that are part of the master’s in business analytics program, including data mining and predictive analytics for business, health care analytics and marketing analytics.

“I believe a Nazarian MBA degree is an investment in one’s future,” said Walker. “For me the value is a no-brainer because above all else it teaches you how to think deeply, which is necessary for success in today’s digital and increasingly automated business world.”

Managing costs

Lenore Goldberg, dean of colleges and curriculum at DeVry University’s Keller Graduate School of Management, said the institution has implemented a number of changes to make its MBA degree more attractive and attainable.

“For example, those with previous coursework or a job not reflected on their transcripts can take a challenge exam to avoid taking certain courses or complete a portfolio assessment,” said Goldberg. “These changes are designed to reduce time and cost.”

Students can also choose to complete the program entirely online or opt for a hybrid format that allows for some in-person attendance. DeVry has several campuses in the L.A. region, including in Sherman Oaks.

There are new curriculum options as well, including the addition of a leadership and technology section that allows students to choose to take a course in a technology-focused area such as essentials of information systems and programming, strategic management of technology or project management systems.

Educators also introduced a digital leadership class in which students get the chance to evaluate a company planning to move to a digitized-based operation, producing real-world materials and presentations that would assist the business in making the transition.

Students can also choose to take business analytics as one of their core courses within the MBA.

In November, Keller graduate students will have the chance to complete coursework that prepares them to take the Certified Management Accountant exam.

Courses for the CPA exam will continue to be offered but will be updated in January of next year to align with the evolution of the Certified Public Accountant exam.

“The business world is evolving, and technology is constantly changing the way we work and connect,” said Goldberg. “The Keller MBA prepares learners to thrive in digitally powered careers, bringing relevant tools from the workplace into the classroom to help learners gain practical skills and experience.”

Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans Welk is a managing editor at the Los Angeles Business Journal and the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. She previously covered real estate for the Los Angeles Business Journal. She has done work with publications including The Orange County Register, The Real Deal and doityourself.com.

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