Business Majors Get Global View

May 14, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — A trend among local colleges and universities has picked up steam in the past few years, as business schools try to keep up with the globalization of the American economy.

Aquinas College was one of the first local schools to offer international business as a major, doing so in 1991, but the competition has gotten a lot steeper since then.

“International business has become a popular degree with some of our better students,” explained Woody Hoover, acting chair of Aquinas’ business department. “We’ve had excellent success sending students to both coasts: Wall Street and Silicon Valley.”

Aquinas might have gotten an early start, but Grand Valley State University’s Seidman School of Business is making up for lost time. Grand Valley established its international business program in 1997, and then retooled it in 2001 to create a more rigorous program with what it says is one of the toughest sets of graduation requirements in the state.

To earn GVSU’s bachelor’s degree in international business, a student must have a double major in business, minor in a foreign language, and spend the equivalent of a semester studying overseas.

“We revised the curriculum recently to make it a little more rigorous,” said Carol Sanchez, director of the Seidman School of Business international business program.

“Grand Valley is the only one that offers those requirements. We think those are the key components in an education in international business and the global marketplace.”

Most schools require study abroad, while nearly all require competence in a foreign language. The double major, however, is unique to GVSU.

A student in the GVSU program will graduate with an equivalent background in another functional business discipline — marketing, accounting, finance, management or economics.

Since the curriculum change, GVSU has seen a jump of from 65 students in 2001 to over 100 this year.

“It is important that people, students and employers understand that international business involves more than jobs moving overseas.

“It involves managing resources and assets in other places, selling overseas, sourcing things from overseas. It is so broad that I think people have to know about it if they want to survive in business,” Sanchez said.

“The trend that is developing in the last 10 years is that organizations have started looking for external markets,” explained Chris Mbah, head of Cornerstone University’s International Business Program.

“Since the global recession of the ’80s, they have been moving in that direction. I think today every business graduate is going to have some international courses on their transcript, because today most organizations have some kind of international market or customers. They are going to need someone with cross-cultural skills.”

Cornerstone has offered the major since 1999, and utilizes instructors with broad cross-cultural experience. For example, Mbah has taught international business in the United Kingdom, Africa and the Pacific Rim. The young program has earned a certain amount of national recognition through his research efforts and professional journal articles.

Neither Hope nor Calvin College offers international business as a major, but both incorporate it across the curriculum.

“We want to emphasize it in every area of our business program for the growth of our students,” said Roland Hocksbergen, chair of Calvin’s business department. “A lot of our courses integrate global issues. We’re trying to make students aware of the global world that we’re part of.”

Both Calvin and Hope show high participation among their student bodies in study-abroad programs and both offer business-intensive experiences.

International business is available at Calvin as an emphasis in business administration. Calvin is unique, however, in one related program.

Hocksbergen is the head of the Third World Development program, designed to educate students in the complexities of problems in Third World nations. The program has produced a crop of alumni that operates business in the developing countries of South America, Asia and Africa.

Contacts for these ventures were formed through the study-abroad program and international students on campus. The student body of Calvin represents nearly 50 countries.

Not all students can afford a semester overseas, however.

“Most of our students are adult working professionals, which requires us to do some unique and interesting things with our international business program,” said Tom Brown, dean of the Undergraduate Business School at Davenport University.

“They tend to be working for the larger companies that are somehow involved in international trade or commerce.”

Davenport does require an international experience for graduation, but often it is able to mold the requirement to accommodate a student’s needs.

“We try to make them the least disruptive,” Brown said. “Some aren’t longer than two weeks, others are planned a year in advance if they need to take time off. This experience is a special challenge for working adults; some cannot take advantage of it.”

Instead, many large companies transfer the employee to a position that exposes them to whatever their international interest may be.

For some, this may be the only way to complete an internship or fulfill the international experience.

Ferris State University has offered an international business major since 1991, but it is not available at the Grand Rapids campus. An international business professional certificate is available, however, through coursework similar to the bachelor degree, only the language requirement is omitted and fewer credits are required.

Davenport and the local campuses of Western Michigan University offer master’s degrees in business administration with an international business emphasis.

“We need to understand the difference between cultures,” Terry O’Connor, chair of the University of Phoenix Graduate School, explained. “Trade, risk analysis, conflict resolution — when dealing with foreign cultures, they all get a little more complex.” 

Locally, only the University of Phoenix offers an MBA in global management.

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