When it comes to recruiting students to a Master of Business Administration program, schools in the San Fernando Valley are switching tactics to fit with business realities and their target student demographic.

Some, such as California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, No. 1 on the Business Journal’s MBA Programs list, believe that a range of business specializations is the way to go, while California State University – Northridge’s David Nazarian College of Business and Economics, No. 4, has done away with its eight specializations in favor of a single program.

DeVry University’s Keller Graduate School of Management attracts a wide range of students with varying schedules through online learning options and a short timeframe to graduate. DeVry ranks No. 7 on the list.

Keller is also tech-focused to match job availability, according to Ryan Sagers, group president for DeVry campuses in the West.

For Sumantra Sengupta, assistant dean and academic director for Executive MBA, MBA and Master of Science in Management programs at Cal Lutheran, its programs and specializations are a response to the diverse students who attend the school.

“I recently pulled race and gender statistics, and we are as much all over the place as anyone can get, which makes it really exciting because we do have 17 countries represented at any given time,” said Sengupta.

Besides offering an MBA program, the university also offers the EMBA program to train the next generation of chief executives, and an MSM for those that want to pick up generalized business skills.

“We’ve got people with biology majors, who have suddenly realized that med school is not their passion, and they also don’t want to be researchers, but they have a biology degree so now they have to figure out how to capitalize it,” said Sengupta of the MSM program.

The MBA program is still Cal Lutheran’s “bread and butter,” with 65 to 70 percent of the department’s students falling into this category. Marketing, finance and international business are the top programs through the MBA. Other majors include entrepreneurship, human capital management and IT management. Students can also opt for an MBA with no specialization, which Sengupta lightly refers to as the “jack of all trades.”

In contrast, CSUN has forged ahead on a different path to attract students, doing away with specializations in favor of one “flex” program.

The decision hinged on the types of students they aim to attract. “The majority of students are working adults, typically middle management,” said Chandra Subramaniam, dean and professor at the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics in Northridge.

“It’s perfect for working adults to get them ready for the next step on the ladder. Our economy is doing really well at the moment, so the next question for them is will they stay at the job they’re in or continue moving up the ladder,” he explained.

Specializations are still available through CSUN, Subramaniam said, in the form of master of science degrees in fields such as professional accountancy and taxation.

The degrees were first offered summer 2018 as full- and part-time, 15-month programs. The department is also looking to have master programs approved in real estate and other specialties.

Partnerships with IBM and Amazon.com Inc., through CSUN’s Workforce of the Future program, exposes students to new tech coming down the line and how businesses are planning to work with it. The most recent Workforce of the Future seminar delved into how accounting firms such as KPMG are changing the way they operate to make the most of pipeline tech.

In November, the seminar will host AC Nielsen with a presentation about the burgeoning industry of tech in the entertainment industry.

Marketing the MBA

CSUN’s restructuring comes with a new branding campaign next year, Subramaniam said. The university spends approximately $100,000 a year on marketing, but the looming brand campaign will add an unknown cost to that figure.

“We are talking with a marketing firm in terms of how do we make sure we can tell our story appropriately,” explained Subramaniam. “I’m very proud of the high quality of the program, but we have not told the story right. We need to do a better job of it.”

Currently, CSUN markets the degree through sponsorships with the Business Journal and its sister paper, the Los Angeles Business Journal, but it’s limited advertising, Subramaniam added.

While not at liberty to name a budget figure, Cal Lutheran’s Sengupta points to a robust social media presence, carefully cultivated connections to the global business community, and guerilla marketing tactics to draw students to its business programs.

“I always say that our marketing budget is such that we have to be very practical about it, because we are not Pepperdine that throws money around. We are extremely, extremely frugal,” Sengupta said. “We do print, we still believe in print. We are doing a lot of digital now, we do LinkedIn, we do some MBA-specific websites on that. We do some radio, for example we sponsor the 805 Podcast, which kind of starts in Santa Barbara and peters out around Agoura.”

Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business, with satellite campuses in Encino and Calabasas, is No. 2 on the Business Journal’s MBA Programs list.

To draw in students from the Valley, specifically, involvement in local business organizations and networking events is a must for universities, Sengupta said.

Living in the Valley, joining groups like BizFed and the Valley Economic Alliance, and being a sponsor for such groups complements print advertisements and radio spots for Cal Lutheran.

Classroom setting

According to Sengupta, the faculty roster, where teachers come from and the connections they have can sway students comparing local MBA programs too.

Program leaders are always looking for the perfect mix of academia and industry expertise in faculty, Subramaniam added. Faculty members at CSUN are often consultants in the field of their expertise, are doing research through editorial boards of national or international business journals, or have their own businesses to offer students real-world examples.

Cal Lutheran relies heavily on a network of contacts from the previous work experience of faculty, administration and former students. Sengupta, for one, has 25 years of experience as a partner at Ernst & Young and running an agriculture company.

Other lecturers include John Duffy, partner at Encino accounting firm Gray Duffy LLP, with 30 years of experience; and Mark Garcia, chief financial officer of Oxnard-based Freska Produce International and Cal Lutheran alumni. These leaders teach because they want to give back, Sengupta said.

Students at the school have small classroom settings –sizes range from 12 at Cal Lutheran to 30 at CSUN – but both are considered smaller and more intimate compared to the anonymity of a lecture hall.

Those with a restricted schedule or limited time to graduate go for a totally online or hybrid classroom, offered by Cal Lutheran or DeVry.

“A student may take a seat in the classroom and interact with their professor in person on Monday night, connect via their smart phone on Wednesday night while traveling on international business, and on Friday join the class from their sofa at home while sitting next to family,” explained DeVry’s Sagers. “Not only does this type of digital learning provide flexibility for busy students, it also helps prepare them for the realities of a digital workplace.”