Industries Education

A new generation of business students is changing the curriculum

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Acquire a global perspective. Learn to communicate and lead. Get in touch with your creative side. Become a holistic thinker.

Never have students in Virginia’s business schools had so much to learn.

“In the past 10 years, there has been an evolution in the way we think about business education and in the perspective our students bring to us,” says Carl Zeithaml, dean of the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia.

Across the commonwealth, business school leaders are adapting to changing demands from employers and students.

Schools are revising curricula, examining the role of liberal arts in business education, planning international student exchanges and trying to find a niche that will distinguish them.

For example, McIntire has moved away from its traditional program of three-hour courses, installing a curriculum taught in modules by professors from a variety of disciplines. “Today, business wants holistic thinkers and integrative thinkers,” says Zeithaml in explaining the switch.

Another trend relates to the rapid globalization of business.  “Ten years ago we had to convince students they should study abroad; now, they demand it,” he says.
Zeithaml also says employers insist business school graduates must have an ability to collaborate, communicate and lead. “We’re also trying to get them thinking, ‘Where does creativity come from? How do you become a more innovative person?’ ”

In addition, Bill Geary, assistant dean of the undergraduate program at the College of William & Mary’s Mason School of Business, says students’ attitude toward life and work has changed in the past decade. Members of the Millennial Generation want to be business leaders but also are interested in sustainability and social responsibility.

“Sustainability is one of those words that is used everywhere,” Geary says.

Here is a look at how some of these trends are affecting Virginia’s business schools.

Global experience

With Twitter, Facebook, Skype and other social media, students often have contacts around the globe before they enter business school.  Those connections influence the education they expect.
Almost every business school now strives to provide its students with international experience.

That could mean sending students overseas, bringing foreign students into the classroom or using technology to connect U.S. students with their peers in another nation.

An innovative program involving Christ University in India and the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business allows Indian students earning an MBA in Bangalore to come to Richmond for nine months to study for a master’s degree in finance or marketing.

Fifty-five Indian students arrived at VCU in August, and another 65 are scheduled to come next August. A number of VCU students soon will be studying at Christ University.

“It’s an academic exchange, but there’s a cultural dimension that’s quite extraordinary,” says Kenneth Blaisdell, associate dean for external relations at the VCU business school.
But students from different nations don’t have to cross the ocean to swap ideas, says Faye Gilbert, dean of Radford University’s College of Business and Economics. “We’re connected virtually with France and Germany, and we have the ability to connect virtually with others around the globe.”

Radford students, for example, worked with Irish students analyzing a proposed company whose specially equipped ships map the ocean’s floor.

Meanwhile, Rick Mathieu, interim associate dean for academic affairs at James Madison University’s College of Business, has seen growing interest in the past five years in career development and placement.  “Internships are a big, big deal,” he says. “Companies like to hire students who did internships with them.”

Internships permit companies to take a long look at prospective employees without risk. For students, an internship is an opportunity to examine a company from the inside and to make valuable connections.

Virginia Tech is seeing another trend. Various programs permitting high school students to earn college credits are transforming students coming into Tech’s Pamplin School of Business.

“They may be coming in at 18 years old, but they have enough hours to be a junior,” says Candice Clemenz, Pamplin’s associate dean of undergraduate programs. “They could finish in three years, but they’re staying four — it’s amazing.” At Pamplin, 31 percent of the students are graduating with two majors or a major and a minor. Clemenz says a popular pairing of majors is accounting and information systems or marketing and management.

Liberal arts have a place

For years, the orthodoxy was that business school and the liberal arts don’t mix.

Then, Steve Jobs of Apple became widely known as the poet of the computer world. Before his death late last year, he was a strong advocate for the marriage of liberal arts and business.
Today, a growing number of business schools are trying to help students develop their creativity.

At the University of Richmond School of Business, Dean Nancy Bagranoff is reviewing its curriculum in light of the book “Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education,” an initiative of The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

The authors believe undergraduate business students should have a strong liberal education.

“This means, in the American tradition of liberal education, that students need to be prepared for their futures as citizens and persons as well an entrants into the work force,” Bagranoff says.
As it stands now, the connection between the liberal arts courses students take and their business education could be described like a barbell. “Each end of the bar carries a significant weight of intellectual subject matter, but the connection is slender,” Bagranoff says.

Job outlook
For an undergraduate looking for a job, one of the best business majors to have these days is accounting.

“Accounting is the strongest undergraduate major. I think there is a perception of employability, and we’ve seen a lot of job opportunities for students,” says Alison O’Brien, associate dean for undergraduate programs at George Mason University’s School of Management.

Some accounting majors are receiving job offers a year in advance of their graduation.

Clemenz of Virginia Tech also cites accounting as well as finance as two hot majors. But she also says no major is more in demand than business information technology.

“With the dot-com bust, enrollment went down,” she said. “Now demand is out of control. Employers would hire twice the numbers we’re producing.”

She says one highly ranked student received a job offer starting at $62,000, with an $8,000 signing bonus. 

Many MBA programs are experiencing a decrease in applicants as a result of the weak economy. See a related story here.

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