Dominic Puggi realized three years ago he didn't have enough education to reach his career goals.
His undergraduate degree in business administration from Thomas Edison State College in Trenton had served him well, helping him land a job as a salesman for EMSL Analytical Inc., a large asbestos testing company in South Jersey.
He realized his career path, however, was limited. So Puggi, who lives in Voorhees, began looking at MBA programs and landed back at Thomas Edison.
Today he has his MBA — and he has a job in management at the same company.
"I was really ramped up and excited because what I was learning was helping me with my profession,'' Puggi said.
Puggi is among legions of students flocking to colleges throughout New Jersey to pursue MBAs, and the state's educational institutions are doing what they can to accommodate the needs of this student population.
Rutgers leads the way. In 2013, it awarded 496 MBA degrees from its Newark campus and 101 more from its Camden campus.
Fairleigh Dickinson in Teaneck was next with 218 degrees, followed by Centenary (136), Monmouth (134), Saint Peter's (112) and Montclair State (103).
Other schools are making a push, too.
At William Paterson University in Wayne, enrollment in the MBA program has increased 19 percent in the past five years, a fact that Susan Godar, interim dean of Cotsakos College of Business, said is partially explained by a turn in the national economy, but also because of the school's part-time-only program.
While it follows a traditional 15-week semester schedule, the MBA program at William Paterson schedules all classes to take place in the evenings and on Saturdays, Godar said.
It's set up this way to accommodate the needs of MBA students, who are typically somewhat older than the average college student, and nearly all work fulltime jobs while going to school.
"It's always difficult to try to balance life and school demands; we think this makes it easier,'' Godar said.
Rutgers, also has augmented its traditional but highly rated two-year full-time MBA degree with a part-time offering. Enrolling 1,000 students, the part-time program has been ranked No. 39 in the country in the 2014 U.S. News & World Report rating.
Rutgers has a 95 percent employment placement rate among MBA grads, a statistic that has earned the school the No. 8 spot for MBA grad employment nationwide.
It's also the No. 1 public MBA program in the New York City region, according to the 2014 U.S. News & World Report's ranking of nearly 700 business schools worldwide.
Sharon Lydon, executive director of the MBA program at Rutgers, attributes the school's success to simply paying attention to the needs of students and to the employers looking to hire them.
The full-time program — which has traditional 15-week-long semesters — has 200 students whose march to graduation is lock step, Lydon said. But although the number of students is high compared to Thomas Edison's 60 students and William Paterson's 100, Lydon said the administration is keen on knowing each one on a personal level.
"We're able to say, 'I know this student. I know their family. I know what they're really good at,'" Lydon said. "And then we do everything we can to marry them with the right company. It's a win-win.''
Mitchell Ezra, who is set to graduate in May from Rutgers' MBA program, says the school does take a keen interest in all the students.
Ezra entered the MBA program as a self-described "biologist'' with a degree in animal sciences. He'll graduate with an emphasis in finance and a job already lined up at Bristol-Myers Squibb.
"The career management office is a key part of the program,'' Ezra, 31, of Piscataway, said.
"They're always there if you need them, ready to do mock interviews and give you feedback on what you're doing right and what you're doing wrong.''
Each of the 60 MBA students at Thomas Edison — an entirely online school targeting adults returning to college — follows his or her own schedule, liberated from the traditional semesters.
The school's courses also are eight weeks long, significantly shorter than the regular 15 weeks at traditional schools. The program can be completed in 18 months.
The school's looser format has both benefits and downfalls.
"I was really ramped up and excited because what I was learning was helping me with my profession,'' Puggi, of Voorhees, said. "But with three classes and three major projects due all at once, it was definitely crunch time.''
Aside from scheduling options, colleges also are attempting to lure MBA students by offering special courses in specific industries.
At William Paterson, for instance, the MBA program offers an emphasis on the music industry, culling from its long history as a music school. It's the only such program in the state, Godar said.
"We've had a lot of people who are interested in moving into the business side of the music industry,'' Godar said.
And at Rutgers, the school's strong ties to New Jersey's pharmaceutical industry have proven to be a big draw for students looking for long-term employment.
Thomas Edison, meanwhile, offers MBA degrees with emphasis in both data analytics and hospital management. Both have proven to be popular, and the school is betting they will continue to be in the future, Williams said.
"We have so many types of people coming back to school that we have to continue to refine and hone the offerings,'' Williams said. "This is a highly dynamic environment, and it literally changes how we align ourselves.''
Students are buying in — but they still have to put in the time.
Don't be confused: While schools are making their MBA programs work better for students, they are still plenty of work — especially when you are balancing it with a full-time job.
"It was intense,'' Puggi said. "I was doing school work before work, after work and on weekends.''
In the end though, Puggi got the promotion to make it all worthwhile.
You feel like you need an MBA to advance in your career – but you know you're not getting into Harvard. Here are some things to consider when looking for a program:
Does it meet your goals?
It's not about getting into the "best" school you can; it's about getting into the school that best suits your career goals. And remember, your ultimate goal may lead you away from your present company.
Does it fit into your life?
Full-time or part-time. On campus or online. Accelerated or weekends only. There are many options and they all lead to degrees. Make sure you pick the one that you can handle along the way.
Does it match your personality?
How will the school work with you — on financial aid, relationships with professors and, most importantly, finding a job? If it's not a good fit on a one-on-one basis, move on. There are plenty of options.