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College of Business graduate programs continue to see enrollment growth

Friday, September 25 2020 12:00pm

New starts for fall 2020 are up 5 percent for the college’s graduate programs.

By Megan Bulow

Despite concerns about how the COVID-19 pandemic could impact higher education enrollment, the College of Business’s graduate programs continue to see growth this year. Compared to fall 2019, new starts for fall 2020 are up 5 percent for the college’s graduate programs. This continues an upward growth trend from fall 2018 to fall 2019 when new starts for the college’s graduate programs increased 15 percent.

For fall 2020, the college’s residential and online programs are seeing increased enrollment, while the professional programs, which offer a blend of some online coursework and in-person residencies, maintained the same enrollment numbers as last year. Luke Pittaway, associate dean for graduate programs in the College of Business, described the college’s strategies that translated to increased enrollment over the past several years.

“I am thrilled that our graduate programs continue to grow, especially during a volatile time in higher education,” Pittaway said. “One of our strategic moves in this space was to offer specialized master’s degree programs, such as the accounting program and the business analytics program. We recently launched our Master of Science in Management (MSM) degree, which is showing strong numbers for the first cohort.”

The MSM program allows students to customize their degree by selecting two areas of concentration in addition to the required management and leadership courses. The areas of concentration include business analytics, finance, human resources management, and sales. 

“We designed the MSM program for people of all different backgrounds and areas,” said Amy Taylor-Bianco, program director for the MSM and associate professor in the college’s Management Department. It’s meant to be a flexible program that meets students’ needs. They can use the areas of concentration to advance their professional goals and study a range of pertinent topics.”

Maria Johnson, a student in the MSM program, said the coursework was manageable for full-time working professionals. “As someone who has been out of undergrad for more than five years, getting back into schoolwork was a slight transition but nothing too terribly overwhelming. I will say it does take about 8-10 hours out of my week to complete reading assignments, quizzes, and classwork. Someone with decent time management skills should be able to handle the course load very easily.”

For students who are not ready to commit to a full master’s degree program, the areas of concentration are available as online graduate certificates. With only three or four courses required per certificate, students can add a new skill in as little as 28 weeks or two semesters. The certificates also serve as areas of specialization for students in the Online MBA.

Associate Dean Pittaway credited the college’s ability to innovate in the graduate degree space with strong enrollment in the Online MBA program. “We have managed to maintain stable enrollment in the MBA market as more programs have moved online. Seeing growth on top of that is fantastic,” he said.

The first online program the college offered was the Online MBA degree, which launched in 1996 as the “MBA Without Boundaries.” The Online MBA averages around 250 graduates per year—more than any other graduate program at the University.

According to Bill Young, the program director for the Online MBA and the Online Master of Business Analytics, and an O’Bleness Associate Professor in the college’s Department of Analytics and Information Systems, the Online MBA program’s success allowed the department to build out its analytics program and incorporate this content across the college.

“From an organization perspective, the demand for working professionals possessing analytical skills is outpacing the supply. We have specifically designed our suite of analytical program offerings to address this growing demand,” Young said. “I often tell my students that you will either be asked to conduct an analysis, or you will be asked to lead your organization through their data-centered initiatives. Either way, we offer a suite of programs that are catered to our student’s career goals. In today’s business environment, analytics is no longer a ‘nice to have’ skill. It is a quintessential skill that is helping organizations to create a competitive and operational advantage for their organization.”

In addition to the Online Master of Business Analytics, the MBA program has a business analytics concentration, and three of the online graduate certificate programs focus on analytics. “Short-term skills can be developed from our certificates, and a deeper set of skills can be developed through our master’s degree programs,” Young said.

Along with developing new degree programs, another strategy the college has employed is to create scholarships for specific audiences, including active-duty military personnel, veterans, and alumni. The college also has partnered with more than 20 corporations whose employees are eligible for a corporate partner scholarship that can be applied toward a degree or certificate program.

While the scholarships have provided these students with a financial advantage, one of the driving factors in the college’s enrollment growth has been the flexibility and convenience of the programs’ delivery formats. Students who can’t attend a residential program in Athens can select an online version of a program or one of the professional programs to still engage in some face-to-face coursework and networking opportunities.

“We’re meeting students where they are and providing access to education from anywhere,” Pittaway said. “Whether they want to do a certificate or a specialized degree program, we have the ability to give our students options and choices to fit their needs.”