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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 22, 2018

Iowa’s universities expanding, specializing advanced business degrees

By Vanessa Miller, The Gazette | Dec 19, 2017

While the University of Iowa is eliminating its traditional full-time master’s of business administration program, business academia is far from contracting at the state’s public universities.

The demand for advanced business degrees — including ones that zero in on specialties or that meet the needs of professionals trying to get ahead while still holding down a job — is growing, according to interviews and Board of Regents documents.

Citing surging enrollment in its business college, Iowa State University is adding 35,000 square feet next to its 111,000-square-foot Gerdin Business Building.

At the UI, the institution started accepting applications for a new master’s of science in finance degree, set to welcome its first class next fall.

And this month, the University of Northern Iowa asked permission from the regents to offer MBA programming in new locations outside its Cedar Falls campus — specifically in Pella and Fort Dodge, where community and business leaders asked for it.

“This executive-style program on evenings and weekends will provide working adults access to complete their MBA in 28 months without disrupting work schedules,” according to UNI’s request.

UNI in 2012 enrolled a two-year MBA cohort in Pella, with 16 students graduating in 2014. And it currently is offering one in Mason City, with 21 students scheduled to graduate in 2019.

But the need persists in Pella, which is about an hour from any in-person MBA offering. UNI said it has “received inquiries from potential students who were not ready to pursue an MBA in 2012, along with others in the community who would be interested in another on-site MBA offering,” records show.

“The business community in Fort Dodge is similarly distant from any face-to-face MBA programs, with the closest being 90 minutes away,” the regent documents state. “As with Pella and Mason City, a number of larger companies do business in the area, creating a pool of successful professionals who have no local opportunity to take the next career-advancing step of earning the MBA.”

UNI acknowledged that MBA programs abound across the state, including at their sister institutes of ISU and the UI — which, while eliminating its full-time MBA program, is expanding its part-time and specialized degree options.

Still, according to UNI documents, “none offers a face-to-face program within an hour’s drive of Pella or Fort Dodge.”

The university considered working with the Pella Corporation and Vermeer Corporation in Pella, but ultimately chose not to engage in any formal relationship with specific employers.

Rather, to maintain independence, UNI would work with Central College in Pella and Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge to host the programs.

If approved, UNI faculty would travel to Pella or Fort Dodge to deliver the instruction on Friday evenings and Saturdays.

Providing programming in Pella and Fort Dodge could cost as much at $160,142, according to regent documents. But UNI would do it only “if the number of admitted students will generate tuition revenues sufficient to cover expenses over the duration of the program.”

Having more MBA options would bolster Iowa’s economy, UNI argued in its request.

“According to a 2016 year-end employer poll administered by the Graduate Management Admission Council, 68 percent of employers hired people with MBAs, and 79 percent plan to hire MBAs in 2017,” its request said. “Many business occupations carry a wage premium for having a master’s degree rather than only a bachelor’s degree.”

Workforce and student demands are behind UI’s pitch for a new master’s degree in finance, according to Thomas Rietz, a finance professor and departmental executive officer in the Tippie College of Business.

That program will differ from traditional MBA offerings in that it will home in specifically on careers in finance, which are more prevalent since the recession in 2008.

Students taking graduate school tests indicate demand for finance degrees is strong. Market analyses recently showed those with master’s in finance can enter the workforce making $80,000 a year.

“It can be a good investment for the students,” Rietz said.

UI is phasing out its full-time MBA program, which was seeing dismal interest, in exchange for specialized programs like the finance degree.

The program aims to offer unique learning opportunities like internships not afforded to most finance students, according to Rietz.

“And we are Iowa — we are a communications school,” he said. “So we have a communications course built all the way through, which I think will help differentiate our students.”

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