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L-R: Eric Olson, Clifton Petty, Eveline Lewis and David Meinert
SBJ photo by Geoff Pickle
L-R: Eric Olson, Clifton Petty, Eveline Lewis and David Meinert

CEO Roundtable: Business School

Posted online

Springfield Business Journal Editorial Vice President Eric Olson discusses higher education with local college of business deans Eveline Lewis of Evangel University, David Meinert of Missouri State University and Clifton Petty of Drury University.

Eric Olson: Taking the pulse of the demands in the hiring world for your students right now, what are the most in-demand business degrees? Where do students see their highest job prospects?
David Meinert: The highest demand right now is accounting, (information technology), finance and probably risk management. Construction management, interesting enough, is moving up rapidly. The construction industry did not take much of a hit. In fact, you are looking at construction material prices going through the roof. All these projects are driving demand for more construction managers. In fact, their salaries have gone up very rapidly; they may be eclipsing some of the business areas.
Eveline Lewis: My list is similar: accounting, finance, business data, analytics, (human resources) has done quite well.
Clifton Petty: For us, it would be cybersecurity and marketing. And good demand for finance management.
Olson: I heard accounting from two of you and maybe some general management. What do you attribute the interest in those fields to?
Meinert: Accounting has been around a lot longer than IT, for example. There are people who got in that have not retired yet. Whereas accounting, it has been established for so long they are going to see about one quarter of their workforce every decade retiring. Baby boomers are moving out and for some reason accounting majors are down. This is a national phenomenon.
Olson: At Missouri State and Evangel, the enrollment numbers are up, but nationally you’re seeing a downward trend in accounting?
Meinert: For us, accounting numbers are down but demand for business is up. We had 30-plus companies here recruiting our accounting majors; before COVID we had 38 or 39.
Lewis: Accounting students, we have 100% placement when they graduate and some of them a year or two before they graduate they get the offers.
Petty: Our accounting numbers in terms of enrollment are down some in terms of every student we graduate we can place. So, the demand in the market for accounting is still strong.

Enrollment trends
Olson: What are the strongest enrollment areas in schools? In the business department, which majors or degrees are most popular?
Lewis: At Evangel, it is management and marketing and infusing business data analytics as part of their program. Data analytics has been pretty popular.
Meinert: Our numbers are down overall and a lot of that is international students. We have seen a significant decline not just year-on-year but prior years. Things have changed globally, demand from Europe and Australia, aggressively recruiting in China and other countries we frequently get large numbers from, that is where our shift in enrollment has been. We have seen growth, for example from IT, business analysis majors starting to take off and construction management is up. Big growth right now is MBA. It’s up 50% in five years; year-on-year up 17%. Master’s in project management is growing.
Lewis: That’s interesting that the MBA market is up again.
Meinert: We’re struggling to put together enough sections, especially online. Online is really where the focus is right now.
Lewis: We probably contribute to your MBA also because we have that agreement we signed a couple of years ago.
Meinert: We’re actually working on a couple more of those with historically Black colleges and universities. We hope to not only bring students to Springfield but to provide online for students outside of this region.
Olson: On these interschool agreements that you see taking place much more often than have in the past, can you explain the structure of those agreements and motivations? And why are schools doing that more often?
Meinert: In most cases, the students were following the pathway without the agreement. By putting the agreement in place, frequently we can offer them incentives. I will use Evangel and other agreements we have. We agree to let those students start taking graduate classes as seniors typically to reverse transfer credit back to fulfill the undergraduate requirement. It is just like they were there for four years and jumped into our MBA, but they are with Evangel or whatever school they are with and get that advantage of being able to get those six hours of their MBA done. So, they are double dipping. We are looking to increase the number of hours, their MBA commitment actually could go up to nine hours of mixed credit to give students the chance of undergraduate and graduate.
Lewis: From the undergraduate side, for us, it is a good recruitment. Because we do not have an MBA program, when we are recruiting new students and they ask that question, we say we have an agreement with a state university here and our students don’t have to take the test.
Olson: At Drury, are some of those agreements in place with the college of business?
Petty: Not specifically college of business, we do have articulation agreements and the like at Drury at the university level. Our MBA is different; we just revised and launched a new MBA program. It is a cohort model, and it’s part-time intensive over two years. MBAs, in general, I think it’s good, with MSU bucking the trend and ours is healthy, but MBA programs in general are down, have been down pretty sharply until just recently. There has been some pickup I think because some of the elite schools really changed admission requirements and that drew applicants in, but otherwise it has been a rough market.
Meinert: Some of this run-up this past year has been due to COVID. We have got individuals coming back and it’s interesting, companies have come back on their tuition reimbursement. Sometimes in a recession, it hurts. We have a cohort program, also. Whenever the economy slows down and people are worried about jobs and wanting to shift careers, MBA numbers are going to go up. But ours is a five-year run we have been bucking the trend. We are a little concerned, though, that some of the Big Ten schools that surround us to the east and north are eliminating their residency programs, their on-campus, and shifting online. Having seen the price points for some of those, we are extremely competitive.
Olson: Is that suggesting that the online degrees are actually charging more than residency?
Meinert: In some of the cases, it clearly is. Unless your employer is picking up the tab, very few students are going to sign up and take up one of those programs.

MBA reboot
Olson: What was the purpose for shaking up the MBA program at Drury? Because of some shrinkage in the numbers?
Petty: These trends for our MBA programs are leadership development education. We have been traditional; we have been more project-based, team-based. That is sort of our heritage, but also, the market is bifurcating online and making programs more accessible and that is the general direction. We thought there is still space for … and made a program that actually strengthens the leadership development component. Teaching how to think like a consultant is important whether you are a consultant or not. It is mindset, it is a way at looking at problems. That is risky in this market, but I think it played to our strengths and scale in a cohort.
Lewis: We’ve been toying with the idea if we want to start on our own MBA for a specific niche because of our constituencies. We still have not taken that step yet.

Salary negotiation
Olson: Let’s talk about compensation. For your graduating students, what graduates and what fields are earning the most after college?
Meinert: It’s in line with that demand from business. If you look at the high-demand areas like IT, finance, accounting, cyber, construction, risk management, mid-$40,000 to mid-$60,000, depending on the size of the employer. And you are talking Springfield versus (Kansas City), St. Louis or Tulsa.
Lewis: I would agree with that, accounting and finance, they both are high demands and pay more.
Olson: That’s looking at immediate compensation. What about on the highest end of the spectrum, the earnings potential?
Meinert: So much of that depends on what sector a student goes into, obviously. Retail, we had some alums be vice president and CEO of Walmart versus someone who is with a regional employer. We have talked to some alums that are running their own construction companies; in their market space, they have been well compensated. But not at the scale of the other industries.
Petty: Some of the student interest and demand in marketing is driven by that long view. I saw a study not that long ago with students that graduated with liberal arts degrees, English, history and so on, ended up years down the road (trying) publishing or editing, but they would migrate to marketing four or five years later. There is space in the market for creative people who can be picked up from a variety of backgrounds and experiences and at that mid-stage, those folks can really leap forward pretty fast.
Lewis: Another aspect that I have been thinking about is that the generation that we are dealing with right now, they are looking for more job satisfaction. Employers that have to look at the job retention, salary alone is not going to keep them.
Petty: It seems that this generation, in particular, is looking for that close match between values and what they believe that they bring to the organization’s values.

Business of school
Olson: All three universities have less students enrolled compared with the prior year. What is the enrollment trend within your college of businesses?
Lewis: We are down as a university 8% – but our numbers are not as bad as I thought. We had been going up between 14% and 15% in the business department before COVID, but last year, 2020-21, we increased by 2% in the business department.
Meinert: We are down, but that largely reflects that international population. We were at about 60% of MSU’s international students in the college of business about five years ago, we had like 1,000 international students. That really has taken a hit. We are serving those students online. We are looking at the admissions data and the college of business is up a little bit less.
Olson: Is Missouri State’s college of business still the largest in the state?
Meinert: As far as I know. A year ago Mizzou didn’t report their enrollment data, and so we were not able to get that. Short of trying to go and find enrollment numbers of schools, they are not always good about providing details of the college level.
Olson: What’s MSU’s college of business enrollment now?
Meinert: We were at 5,036 for our fall census number. We have a real large graduating class, it will be interesting to see, along with our growth in admissions, if we will hit that. I think a lot of it will come down to whether our international students come back. They are applying; they are hoping that their visas will be flowing and vaccines will be ready and available. I could see a nice surge in numbers in the fall or maybe it will be spring of 2022.
Petty: We’re basically flat. There is a lot of turn in the data, looking for a strong enrollment year. I think there is good news on the immediate horizon.
Olson: From a business school revenue standpoint, where does the college of business rank at your respective schools?
Meinert: That’s always tied to enrollment. The larger your enrollment, the more the revenue. We have been running in first place.
Petty: For us, that is the hardest question, that is like the dissertation. We look at things and they are so intertwined. In terms of placing it like that and in comparison to other units, … that is not the way we typically look at it.
Lewis: In the last several years, we have to come to that point of how do we measure this? What does the data say? What is the revenue and how do we get the highest (return on investment) in every department? Higher education has to embrace it. It doesn’t matter what degree, as long as we can see that at the end, they have something that they can contribute to the community. That doesn’t always mean they get $50,000 to $60,000 off the bat, but they have something. You want to talk about enrollment, at Evangel the three largest departments are applied sciences, behavioral and social sciences, and business. I am happy to say that we just became the top. The business department is now the largest at Evangel at this point. It goes back into the demand of what does the community need.
Meinert: Has your CFO looked at … what a college generates versus expenses? I have seen that analysis; it looks good at face value, but it ignores the fact that we want our business students to take half their classes in other colleges. We are not our own silos. We need arts and the college of natural and applied sciences. That’s why this bottom line education is a real challenge. It doesn’t always translate well because of how we share our students.
Lewis: If you look at our curriculum, we are liberal arts, as well. In fact, that is the strength, that we can say our students are grounded. They take classes in different areas. We don’t want to have a certain number of students; I don’t want to be the top all the time. I want to embrace all that. We are in it together, literally.
Olson: In the next year, what do you see as areas of growth at your colleges?
Meinert: We’re seeing growth in analytics. We are expanding experiential learning. We started to get traction with local businesses where classes were doing projects for businesses and not-for-profits. Five of our six graduate programs now can be completed online. And someone can finish their undergrad degree on an online pathway. We saw that trend before COVID, but certainly post-COVID there is a lot of pressure for that online pathway.
Lewis: We will have the (bachelor’s in business administration degree) in business analytics in the next year or two. In terms of hiring, we have added two new faculty members. We must plan ahead and strategize a little bit better. The economic situation with the U.S., we are going up. We need to be ready.
Petty: In my interim stint, we were right at the point of our reaccreditation. We are on the move for curriculum, we launched this new MBA program, but we are in the process of a complete review of our undergrad programs, rolling out great improvements in the fall. We are looking ahead to a new building, I understand that the steel has arrived. That new facility will be a fantastic platform for the curriculum we’re developing. We are leaning forward and excited about the years ahead.

Excerpts by Michelle Higgins, mhiggins@sbj.net.

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