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Business education’s changing face

Graduate programs are tailored to fit the needs of students and employers

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Print this page by Veronica Garabelli
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James Bradley is director of business analytics programs at the
College of William & Mary. Photo by Mark Rhodes

Nancy Bagranoff hears a constant refrain when she asks companies about skill gaps they see in business-school graduates.

“Data analytics, data analytics, data analytics,” says the dean of the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business. “That’s all they talk about.”

Graduate business schools across the commonwealth are heeding that call by offering data-analytics and other specialized programs. Schools also are tailoring their offerings to better suit the needs of busy, working professionals.

The data-analytics needs Bagranoff hears about reflect a growing national shortage of job candidates with that skill set.

According to a report by the Business-Higher Education Forum and PwC, job postings in the U.S. calling for data science and analytical skills are expected to reach 2.7 million in 2020, up from almost 2.4 million in 2015.

Randy Raggio, associate dean of the University of Richmond’s MBA program, says technology has made it easier for companies to collect data, but they need to be able to interpret that information.

“What companies are looking for are people who understand not only the statistical analyses but understand the business challenges and can convert the data into insights to help them make these data-driven decisions,” he says.

Data analytics programs
UR plans to add a data-analytics track to its MBA program next fall.  The track will include courses such as Applied Statistics and Communicating Research Insights, which will focus on creating data visualization, including charts, to aid business decisions. The move will be the first time a specialized track has been offered in Richmond’s MBA program, Raggio says.

Meanwhile, the College of William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business in Williamsburg has a master’s program dedicated to business analytics. The full-time, residential program can be completed in two semesters. Next August, William & Mary plans to launch an online version of the master’s program, which can be completed in five semesters.

“This is intended for the working professional that has a job, wants to keep their job and keep working while they’re getting their education,” says James R. Bradley, director of the business analytics programs.

Similarly, Virginia Tech offers a master’s degree in business administration with a concentration in business analytics that can be completed in a year at its Blacksburg campus. The university also is developing a part-time version of the program for working professionals, which will be available at its Northern Virginia Center in Falls Church. Tech hopes to launch the part-time program next fall.

Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business in Richmond likewise has seen increased interest in its master’s program in decision analytics. The school offers two versions of the program, including a 20-month weekend format geared toward professionals, which requires class attendance only every other weekend. Another version of the program is offered during the week, which students can take on a full-time or part-time basis.

“The executive format has been very good for people to maintain their current jobs, if they want to, and they get through it pretty quickly,” says Ed Grier, the business school’s dean.

Redesigned MBAs   
While many business schools are developing specialized programs, some are opting to not offer full-time, residential MBA programs.

George Mason University in Fairfax, for example, eliminated its full-time, residential MBA program in 2013, but it offers part-time programs for students, executives and those pursuing dual law/MBA degrees. Next fall, GMU also will offer an online MBA, which can be completed in two years and nine months.

The Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech also dropped its full-time, residential MBA program in Blacksburg two years ago because it wasn’t seeing a large number of applications from highly qualified candidates. The school has focused its programs in larger metro areas, including the Washington, D.C., area where it offers an evening MBA in Falls Church and an executive MBA in Arlington. It also has an MBA program for working professionals that can be completed in two years. It meets monthly, alternating between Richmond and Roanoke.

The College of Business at Harrisonburg-based James Madison University has never had a full-time, residential MBA program, but it offers three part-time MBAs with focuses on innovation, executive leadership and information security. The latter two programs are online and meet every four and eight weeks,  respectively, in McLean. The innovation program is based in Harrisonburg. Dean Mary Gowan says many business schools are moving toward specialized degrees because they can be completed quickly and are more tailored to employers’ need.

Staying full time 
The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, on the other hand, has seen steady enrollment in its full-time, residential MBA program. The school’s executive MBA program has been growing, launching a popular new section in the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington County in 2016. The program also is offered in Charlottesville. 

“Business education, overall, is growing very strongly; it’s just that now students have a choice of a lot of different formats,” says Dean Scott C. Beardsley.

Likewise, William & Mary’s full-time, residential MBA program welcomed 120 students in fall 2017 — the largest class in its 50-year-history — after revamping its program. It now offers six specializations: business analytics and supply chain, entrepreneurship and innovation, health care, consulting, finance, and marketing.

In adapting the program, the Mason School gathered feedback from 5,000 people from around the world. Those ideas were passed on to faculty and used to craft the new program dubbed “Tomorrow’s MBA.” 

“I think some schools are really questioning the role of the full-time MBA in their school. For us, it’s a priority and one in which we are really investing,” says Ken White, associate dean of MBA and executive programs.

No matter how you slice it, Virginia’s business schools are offering students a range of degrees and formats — online, in the classroom or a blend of both.

At the end of the day, students want an education that’s convenient to them, says Virginia Tech College of Business Dean Robert T. Sumichrast.  “It’s up to the Pamplin College and other education institutions to adapt to the needs of those students.” 

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