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Getting a career boost from executive education

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Entrepreneurs and executives alike are increasingly turning to college- and university-level programs to gain an edge, according to administrators and participants. Pursuing a business-related degree—either for the first time as an undergrad, or as a boomerang student for a graduate degree—can be a juggling act, balancing work, family, and school responsibilities, but it's worth the sweat, according to studies and conversations with adult students.

“Students looking to get an Executive MBA typically have at least eight to 10 years of work experience and want to accelerate their career growth,” said Loubna Erraji Benchekroun, director of executive MBA career management and alumni relations at Rutgers University. “The 20-month learning experience is tailored for executives and managers who wish to remain on the job while obtaining an MBA.”

Benchekroun, who teaches management skills and organizational behavior courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels, noted that full-time MBA students usually have four to five years of work experience and are looking to change careers.

“They go through a two-year MBA program with a summer internship that can lead to career opportunities upon graduation,” she said.

A way to get ahead

After 10 years of working in television and radio, Marisela Riveros decided to switch careers and transfer her experience and skills to the technology industry.

“In 2012, I earned a Master of Fine Arts in Design and Technology from Parsons School of Design, and soon it became obvious that an MBA degree would be necessary to accelerate my career growth,” said Riveros, who graduated in May from the Rutgers EMBA program (REMBA) and works as interactive media technologies product manager at IBM Digital and Marketing Platforms in New York. “The REMBA program is designed to fit into your work and personal schedule, and provides intensive certification courses that immerse you for one day with industry leaders on current topics, be it in economics and trade, business processes, finance, digital transformation or marketing psychology.”

What insiders are seeing with continuing education programs

  • More women and older students. “Our student profile for the past five years showed that about 30 percent of the EMBA students were women,” said Loubna Erraji Benchekroun, director of executive MBA career management and alumni relations at Rutgers University. “In the past two years, there has been an increasing shift of women students’ enrollment from about 30 percent to about 50 percent. The average ages tend to range from 35 to 45.”
  • A global approach. “We recognized that the U.S. and Chinese economies are inextricably linked and [we] have been sending our students to China for a 10-day summer residency program in Beijing and Shanghai every year since 1993,” adds Benchekroun. “This gives our students the opportunity to witness firsthand the energy, complexity and dynamism of the Chinese economy, along with the challenges and opportunities for U.S. business in China.”
  • More people pay out of pocket. “We had seen an increasing trend of employers cutting back on paying for student tuition even before the financial crisis in 2008. But then it really cut back more in the past couple of years,” Benchekroun says. “And even if employers are paying for tuition, it is usually a small percentage. Even though professionals must invest from their own pocket, it is, however, still a career imperative for executives and managers to gain the knowledge and skills to adapt to the unrelenting pace of economic change.”
  • Certificate and other programs offer a laser focus. In addition to degree programs, “We have number of professional development courses, including certificate programs, that can help individuals to boost their career,” noted Linda Bobo, executive director of business engagements at the Workforce Development Institute of Rowan College at Burlington County. “We also offer customized corporate training at programs on campus and at business locations.” Programs include accounting, writing, leadership and training in Excel and other Microsoft applications.
  • Colleges continue to try to attract minorities to accounting, other programs. “I network, tutor, mentor and speak with students inside and outside of school,” said Tina Burrell, a business and accounting instructor at RCBC. “I tell them that career opportunities, especially as a CPA, or in auditing or taxes, are out there. As a woman and an African-American, I’m a walking billboard for the opportunities that are available to women and minorities.”

Rutgers has seen a lot of enrollment from professionals in the health care and biopharmaceutical industries, financial services, government and consumer product goods, Benchekroun said.

“This trend has continued along with an increasing number of professionals from medical functions, consulting services, education and technology,” she added.

For many, an advanced degree is a “validation tool for career mobility and flexibility; they acquire business skills and tools specific to their current position or career destination,” observed Reggie J. Caudill, dean of the Martin Tuchman School of Management at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark. “While candidates represent a variety of industries, engineering and technology backgrounds dominate.”

More flexibility, but challenges too

Caudill said there’s increased flexibility in EMBA program delivery, with greater use of online and other technology. The coursework itself, he said, has “more emphasis on leadership development,” along with added focus on “data-driven analytics and business data science with emphasis on the integration of business and management knowledge.”

The biggest challenge is maintaining student engagement, but, Caudill added, “The flexibility to reach broad audiences, learn at your own pace and place and reduce the cost of education are major opportunities.”

Cost is becoming more of an issue, he said, since “very few employers pay fully; some pay $5,000-$10,000 per year, and others do not pay at all for executive programs.” But demand is growing, and NJIT plans to expand its EMBA, Caudill said.

“Despite increased competition, we believe there is a market for the degree, especially for a convenient online program that targets STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) professionals.”

In fact, companies are scooping up business graduates, according to a June 2017 employer survey report from the Graduate Management Admission Council.

“Globally, 86 percent of companies plan to hire recent MBA graduates this year, up from 79 percent that hired them in 2016,” GMAC reported. “Demand for these MBA graduates is strongest in the United States and Asia-Pacific, where nine in 10 companies plan to hire these candidates.”

Also encouraging: Three out of four startups said they planned to hire recent MBA graduates, up from the 52% that hired them in 2016. More startups also planned to take on graduates with a master’s in management (37 percent), accounting (23 percent) and finance (25 percent). Globally, more than half of survey respondents reported that MBA base salaries would increase at or above the rate of inflation in 2017.

Some entrepreneurs like Dylan Side were also attracted to a part-time business program. A 22-year-old Cherry Hill-based real estate agent, Side also buys, refurbishes and flips homes with his brother through their company, Side Brothers Investments.

“I went to RCBC (Rowan College at Burlington County) right after high school, but then dropped out to explore other options,” he said.

But last July, he decided to get a college degree in marketing and business administration as a backup plan, and returned to RCBC on a part-time basis.

Side likes the fact that he’s bringing in money while he pursues his education. He chose RCBC because of the flexibility it offers — he can take some classes online — and its ties to Rowan University, which enable students who earn an associate’s degree at RCBC and then go on for a bachelor's at Rowan’s main campus. Side also wanted to stay close to the active South Jersey real estate market.

“I expect to graduate in the spring of 2021,” he added. “After that, I plan on getting an MBA, totally online.”

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