Economy sends business school students back to basics
By Frank Norton
Stand-by disciplines such as supply-chain management, entrepreneurial training and business ethics are back in vogue at business schools, as opposed to consulting and e-commerce, educators say.
Driven by higher-than-average joblessness, enrollments in business schools during the past two years have spiked during the past two years, they said.
Enrollment at Florida International University's Chapman Graduate School of Business jumped 65% in the last four years, said Sally Gallion, assistant dean.
But due to leaner times and highly publicized corporate scandals, students' career focuses seem to have shifted from bullish venture orientations toward core business functions and responsibility roles, professors and administrators said.
"We really haven't seen strong drop-offs in any one program or area because enrollment has been so strong," said Paul K. Sugrue, dean of the University of Miami's School of Business Administration. "But there have been slight declines in some areas."
While Dr. Sugrue admitted enrollment interest in certain IT planning and e-commerce courses has declined, probably due to cutbacks in those business sectors, he said other programs are enjoying unprecedented growth.
For a variety of reasons, the hottest courses now are supply chain management, customer-relationship management, entrepreneurship and business ethics, according to Dr. Sugrue and other South Florida educators.
In the case of supply-chain and customer-relationship management, both marketing functions, it appears that many companies are trying more aggressively to develop marketing schemes that can exploit enhanced web-based linkages between suppliers, producers, distributors and end-users. And growth in those business functions has trickled back into academia, experts say, as students intuitively tend toward growth areas in the job market.
As for heightened interest in entrepreneurship courses, experts speculate that an afterglow of the Internet boom still buoys the do-it-yourself mentality. Dean Sugrue also thinks local companies fuel interest in start-up projects.
"There's not a lot of heavy industry, or corporate headquarters, or Fortune 500 companies here so a lot of that job growth is going to entrepreneurial," he said.
He cited Ryder Systems, Burger King and Ivax as three global Miami-Dade firms that started in Miami as entrepreneurial businesses.
"It sounds trite, but we have to make sure that feet get planted in fertile ground here because this is a great business community for people to take risks in," he said, calling Miami a "resilient market."
This spring all UM business students are eligible to compete in a school-sponsored competition where students present start-up proposals to a panel of judges much the same way entrepreneurs approach venture capitalists. The winning prize is $10,000 and will be announced in March.
Dr. Sugrue also said he and other deans of competing programs are looking into garnering support from Gov. Jeb Bush to create a statewide business plan competition for Florida's higher-ed students.
Perhaps a similar competition, focusing on corporate citizenship, could be developed.
Although business ethics courses have been around for as long as business schools, educators say interest in them is cyclical by nature.
"Obviously business ethics is a hot right now due to the current accounting scandals," said Dr. Sugrue. "We always see issues like these ex-post facto, but that said, before you hire an accountant, you would like to know he's had a course on what is acceptable practice and what is not."