New Business Degrees Compete With MBA

December 3, 2007
| By Pete Daly |
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GRAND RAPIDS — There is an increasing number of places in West Michigan to earn a master’s degree in business administration — and then there are the new kids in class: the master’s degrees in accounting, taxation, administration and others.

Perhaps because of the increased options, or maybe because of the ailing economy in Michigan, at least one long-established local source of the traditional MBA degree is seeing fewer of them awarded each year.

“I think what we are seeing is a simultaneous drop in interest in the MBA and an increase in interest in the MSA,” said Claudia Bajema, director of graduate business programs at the GVSU Seidman College of Business.

An MSA is a Master of Science in Accounting. Bajema said that due to the thinning of the ranks of middle managers in business — especially in Michigan — people interested in a graduate degree in business are now trying to leverage their value with more specific technical training, such as accounting.

“So we’re seeing a real surge in the Master’s of Science in Accounting. The perception is that there are a lot of accounting jobs nationally — and that is documented. Accounting is a very hot field right now,” said Bajema.

GVSU began offering the Master of Business Administration degree around 1973, when the original F.E. Seidman Graduate College was established there.

In the school year that ended last April, 73 MBAs were awarded by the Seidman College of Business. There were 89 awarded in the school years ending in 2006 and 2005, and 112 in 2004. Currently, there are 240 students enrolled in the MBA program; one year ago that number was 266.

Bajema speculated that MBA enrollment may also be dropping here in part due to layoffs of white-collar employees at West Michigan manufacturing companies, particularly engineers. Eighty-eight percent of GVSU MBA students are part-time, and the average age is about 31. They are part-time because they are employed, and at least half are having some of their MBA tuition paid by their employers, so when one of those students loses his or her job, they sometimes have no choice but to suspend their graduate studies.

“The economy has really hurt a lot of people,” said Bajema.

Western Michigan University also offers MBA studies at its two locations in Grand Rapids. Western Michigan first offered MBAs at its Kalamazoo campus in 1961. It is not, however, experiencing a decline in its MBA enrollment.

According to Jack Ruhl, Western’s MBA program director, there are 93 MBA students at the Grand Rapids campuses, all of them working professionals.

“We’re up 8 percent,” said Ruhl. “Right now we are definitely on an uptake — no question, and that’s been the case for about three years.”

WMU also has a Master’s of Science in Accountancy, offered at the main campus in Kalamazoo. Ruhl said enrollment in the program began going up about three years ago when the state of Michigan began requiring 150 credit hours to be a licensed CPA.

Aquinas College is known for its Master of Management degree. It is not an MBA degree but is intended for people in positions of responsibility who need skills and knowledge to become more effective leaders. Acceptance into the course requires two years of management experience, and the people who take the course are, for the most part, “exactly the same population” that sign up for MBAs elsewhere, according to Cindy VanGelderen, dean of the Aquinas School of Management.

VanGelderen said fewer people are receiving the Master of Management degree than 10 years ago. In 2005 there were 226 students enrolled in the program; last year there were 195. Forty people received the Aquinas Master of Management degree in 2005, but in 2006 and again in 2007, that number was 26.

VanGelderen said she suspects the decline may be due to the economy: people losing jobs that had a tuition payment benefit, and companies cutting back on their tuition reimbursement programs and putting more caps on them.

Both Baker College of Muskegon and Central Michigan University offer MBAs through online course work. CMU’s online program just started in May. Thirty students are enrolled now, from all over the country. The 31-credit-hour MBA has a “management information system” concentration focused on the use of software from SAP, the world’s largest business software company.

Locally, Central Michigan University is better known for its Master of Science in Administration degree offered at its classrooms at Centennial Plaza, off 28th Street in Cascade Township. According to Barbara Augustine-Hayes, program administrator for the MSA degree, it is a 36-semester-hour program to improve the management skills of administrators and supervisors. About 200 students are enrolled, and it is now in its 10th year here, but CMU has taught it for 30 years “all over the country,” she said. It started as a course offering on U.S. military bases, at the invitation of Army officials who wanted an expedited management course for its officers.

Two other schools that began offering an MBA degree locally within the last few years are Davenport University and Cornerstone University.

Kojo Quartey, dean of the Donald W. Maine School of Business, said Davenport’s first MBAs were awarded in 1999. Now, a total of about 62 are awarded each year at the Grand Rapids and Holland campuses.

There are almost 200 MBA students at Davenport’s Grand Rapids and Holland facilities, with about 650 statewide.

“But we expect our numbers to increase over the next year or two,” said Quartey.

Davenport just introduced a new MBA in finance on the Grand Rapids campus this fall. In January the university will start classes on yet another new graduate business program: an MBA in health care management. Quartey said that emphasis is particularly appropriate here because of the growing medical industry. Davenport also offers MBAs with emphasis in accounting, human resources and strategic management.

The MBA at Cornerstone has only been offered since 2005, according to Rob Simpson, associate provost of professional and graduate studies. About 200 people are taking the MBA classes, which are held in the evenings and on Saturday mornings. Students range from 30 to 50 years of age, and nearly all are “already in the business workplace.”

The Cornerstone MBA is an accelerated 18-month, 36-credit-hour program, and it generally requires some study in Europe, Asia or Africa, because business professionals need to “understand business globally,” said Simpson.

According to its Web site, the Cornerstone University MBA emphasizes “leadership from a Christian worldview,” “global business,” “entrepreneurship and innovation” and “strategic focus.”

“When we started, we were anticipating a launch of about 60 to 75 students to start. The first year we launched about 110 students, then another 115 or 120 the next year,” said Simpson.    

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