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Arkansas' business schools meet the challenge.

Colleges Rethink Mission in Light of Changing National Trends

BUSINESS SCHOOLS IN Arkansas are redefining themselves to counter a national trend that has fewer students choosing business educations.

During a 20-year period prior to 1987, the number of freshmen planning to major in business almost doubled, with about 26 percent choosing business studies. Since then, a downward trend has been seen nationwide.

To combat declining numbers, schools have begun marketing business degrees by recruiting in high schools and among undecided college students and by expanding course offerings. Business schools also are reaching out more to the business community in an effort to attract more students and better prepare them for the workplace.

Roger Roderick, who became dean of the College of Business at Arkansas State University at Jonesboro this summer, says he plans to concentrate on further integrating the college with the business community.

"We've got to stay close to the customer and see what the business community needs and wants and how we can best serve them," Roderick says.

Interest in business careers dropped more than 40 percent by fall 1992, compared with the 1987 peak, according to a survey by the University of California at Los Angeles. Interest in business careers dropped more than 40 percent by fall 1992, compared with the 1987 peak, according to a survey by the University of California at Los Angeles.

The number of business majors at two of Arkansas' largest universities, University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and ASU, show a similar drop-off since fall 1988. At ASU, the number of M.B.A. degrees conferred also has declined in the last five years, while that number has bounced up and down at UA.

Smaller universities with strong business programs such as Harding University in Searcy are also seeing the number of business majors edge downward, says David Tucker, dean of the School of Business.

"A lot of growth in the 1970s and '80s was |from~ females coming from traditional careers into business," Tucker says.

But Tucker and others say that trend has reversed itself somewhat, with more women again choosing careers in historically female-dominated fields such as nursing and teaching. Tucker also notes that "the tremendous period of growth in the economy" that characterized the 1980s had a positive effect on business school enrollment.

"We just got a little complacent," he says about how most business schools reacted to that period. "I think it's been a time of retrenchment and rethinking in the past few years."

Harding is among the schools increasing the marketing of business degrees among present and prospective students.

Adapt and Learn

One trait employers are looking for more frequently in business graduates is the ability to adapt and learn, says Doyle Z. Williams, incoming dean of the UA College of Business Administration. He says business schools have to be more adept at teaching students how to find answers because the answers are always changing in today's business world.

"Students, I believe, are going to have what I call an entrepreneurial awareness -- being able to innovate and create and look at what the chances are in every situation," Williams says. This ability will help students tackle business problems such as finding market niches and increasing market share, he says.

Williams, who previously served as interim dean at the University of Southern California School of Business Administration in Los Angeles, says he also wants to forge stronger partnerships with the business community at UA.

For example, USC had an executives-in-residence program, which brought accomplished business people into the classroom to share their experiences with students. Williams says new accreditation standards encourage more of this, and he hopes to see a similar program implemented at UA.

The university also aims to ensure that students get "real world" experience through programs such as cooperative education that allow students to earn college credit through paid work in a field related to their academic major and goals.

Business schools also are becoming increasingly aware of tailoring degree offerings to reflect marketplace demand. For example, both ASU and UA offer international business degrees that grew out of the necessity to understand America's increasingly global economy.

Harding is phasing in a similar program that will be headed by Dr. Budd Hebert, whom Tucker describes as a good example of the well-rounded faculty members business schools are seeking.

Hebert has a doctorate degree, as well as about 20 years' business experience, most recently as executive director of a New Mexico company that forms international partnerships to invest in emerging technology companies. Hebert's focus has been on developing partnerships in the Pacific Rim and Mexico in particular. Herbert also served as a New Mexico state senator for eight years.

Another degree Harding offers that resulted from market demand is a professional sales degree added about four years ago. Tucker says it is the only degree program of its kind in the state.

The program has grown quickly in popularity, graduating 10 students in May. It has proven to be highly marketable, says Tucker, adding that each one of them had a job offer before they graduated.

Just as undergraduate business enrollment has dropped, the number of M.B.A. degrees awarded nationwide has also slumped a bit in recent years, but that trend is thought to be leveling off. Williams says M.B.A. enrollment is "more cyclical in terms of the economy than the undergraduate programs are."

For a period, Williams says, M.B.A. programs were popular largely because companies sought those graduates for mid-level management spots. But with widespread corporate restructuring, mid-management experienced cutbacks and companies looked more critically at the cost benefit of hiring M.B.A.s.

Roderick says enrollment in M.B.A.s is starting to pick back up again because employers are encouraging employees to go back and get the degree. He notes that employers and professors alike also feel strongly nowadays that an M.B.A. is most valuable after a student has obtained significant business experience.

To regain prominence, the UA's Williams says business schools will have to work harder to respond to the needs of the business world. Part of that will involve ongoing evaluation and introspection, he says.

Just as businesses are using total quality management principles to measure continuous improvement, he says business schools will have to use similar practices.

"I think business schools are going to be challenged now to be as effective as we can," Williams says.
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Author:Walters, Dixie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Aug 30, 1993
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