Higher Education, Lakeshore, and Manufacturing

Cornerstone, Holland manufacturers partner

November 24, 2012
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Cornerstone, Holland manufacturers partner
Sandra Upton, Cornerstone’s dean of business programs, is particularly excited about the travel component included in the lean manufacturing MBA. Courtesy Cornerstone University
It may seem unlikely that Holland manufacturing companies and a faith-based university in Grand Rapids better known for its teaching and music programs would collaborate on a master’s degree in business, but that’s exactly what’s happening in January.

Cornerstone University is joining the recent wave of higher education platforms offering online courses designed for businesses, following inquiries from lakeshore-based Innotec Inc. and Ventura Manufacturing.

According to the program overview, the MBA in lean manufacturing is “a direct response to the rapid growth and partnership opportunities with organizations in the manufacturing industry.”

All 13 required courses, totaling 42 credits over 78 weeks, will be online, with tuition set at $19,740, said Sandra Upton, Cornerstone’s dean of business programs. It takes a minimum of 14 students to begin a course, she said, and rapid growth and interest in the program is expected.

A unique aspect of the program is the three-credit requirement called “Global Business Experience” in which students will study abroad for 10 days in their choice of China, South Africa, Israel or the Czech Republic. The travel time is scheduled into the program, Upton said, so no student will need to miss a class to participate.

No other Michigan university requires global travel as part of its online MBA manufacturing course, Upton said, and it is the feature generating the most excitement.

“The overriding goal is to get them outside the Western environment and expose them to global business practices and develop cultural experience,” she said. “Students really learning about their practices become very immersed in the culture. With lean manufacturing being new, we won’t limit them to a certain experience, but we’ll be encouraging them toward the China trip. It’s very heavy manufacturing-focused.”

Upton said Innotec, a longtime admirer of the university, approached Cornerstone about creating the program in early 2012 as a method of preparing employees for manufacturing leadership and overall understanding of the industry’s changing nature.

“They’ve been instrumental in terms of program design. I call it a ‘practitioner’s program’ because I’m just facilitating the process, but they’re designing it, making sure it fulfills their needs,” Upton said. “Our faculty are controlling the curriculum, but they are walking alongside us every step of the way.”

Jerry Zandstra has one foot in both worlds. An adjunct faculty member at Cornerstone, Zandstra is also on the Innotec advisory board and CEO of InnoVersity Group, a training program on lean manufacturing.

Zandstra said the idea for the MBA was driven by a discussion among manufacturing executives regarding the dearth of available talent.Currently, there is tremendous competition to find competent and trained employees in the industry, he said, because the nature of manufacturing itself is changing.

“Most manufacturers have come out of the mud slide of the last four years,” he said. “The companies that have survived are finding they have a greater share of market because their competitors are gone, and now there’s a great pent-up demand that’s just beginning to be demonstrated.”

Manufacturing used to involve creating a product and storing it in a warehouse until a customer wanted it, Zandstra said.

“It’s tremendously wasteful to have a giant warehouse full of parts. It’s much better to create the product just in time, but that’s not easy to do,” he said. “This is why we need people who can move from lean manufacturing skill to lean manufacturing knowledge.”

Upton and Zandstra agreed that the future of business-related higher education would be heavily involved with online courses partnered with companies looking for talent.

The online education format does more than save local employees time, Zandstra said. It also provides opportunity for a global industry hungry for educational training.

“The online global phenomenon is the part that really excites me,” he said. “It excites me to think that some kid in Kenya is going to have access to this education and go and make a difference in his community. That’s where all this gets very interesting.”

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