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August 16, 2018
MBA programs go beyond the core at Florida universities

Photo: Jaziel Ojeda/Florida International University

Zara Ahmad is working on her MBA in health care management and will graduate in May from Florida International University.

MBA programs in Florida

MBA programs go beyond the core at Florida universities

Most schools now offer students opportunities to focus their MBA studies on a specific industry.

With demand for MBA programs remaining fat, Florida universities are ramping up efforts to lure new students by offering specialized programs and reaching out to local employers for input.

Students now are able to choose from among more than 50 specialized MBA programs at Florida’s universities, with concentrations in areas such as entrepreneurship, sports management, health care, international business and supply chain management.

“We’re responding to the needs of the modern student and the business world,” says Don Capener, dean of Jacksonville University’s Davis College of Business. Capener says his school’s new MBA with a concentration in consumer goods and services will launch in fall.

While MBA programs typically offer courses in “core” disciplines such as accounting, finance and marketing, specialized programs let students focus their elective courses on a specific industry or function. In some cases, an entire MBA program is focused on managerial skills for a specific industry.

Nationally, some of the more sought after specializations include MBAs in supply chain management, entrepreneurship, informational technology, international business and real estate management.

Zara Ahmad, who will graduate in May with an MBA in health care management from Florida International University, knew she wanted deeper industry-specific knowledge to advance in the health care field. “If you are unsure of your plan, the broader MBA might be more benefcial, but if you have been working a few years and know the direction you are going, specialization can get you where you want to go,” Ahmad says.

J. Preston Jones, dean of Nova Southeastern University’s H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship in Davie, expects Florida’s business schools will continue to create new MBA specializations, particularly as they compete with hundreds of institutions offering MBA degrees, sometimes entirely online. “We want to find a way to distinguish ourselves in the marketplace. That’s what is driving this,” Jones says. 

MBA Trends

Worldwide, for the second consecutive year, a majority of full-time, two-year MBA programs report a rising or stable number of applications. Other program formats, for instance, full-time, oneyear MBA, professional MBA and specialized business master’s programs, are reporting flat or declining volume.

Foreign candidates account for a significant portion of applicants for many MBA and business master’s programs. 

Many employers pay some of the cost if their employees enter an MBA program. Some 70% of MBA programs expect the levels of employer reimbursement in 2014 to remain the same as last year.

Source: Graduate Management Admission Council, 2014 Application Trends Survey 

Zara Ahmad is working on her MBA in health care management and will graduate in May from Florida International University. “If you have been working a few years and know the direction you are going, specialization can get you where you want to go,” she says.

Florida International University

Concentration: Health Care Management 

Medical school can teach you how to treat your patients but not necessarily how to run a physician practice or manage a hospital. Mercy Bradley believes an MBA degree gives health care professionals that understanding and equips them to make well-informed business decisions.

As director of FIU's MBA in health care management, Bradley looks for midlevel health care managers, physicians or clinic workers who want to know more about business, strategy and leadership.

"Our core business curriculum is the same as the general MBA program, but our case studies relate to health care or hospital systems," Bradley explains. A recent case study asked students to analyze the implementation of a disease management program for diabetes and recommend the most effective strategy. Along with management skills, students also delve into health care policy, financing and reimbursement, and budgeting. In a series of courses and challenges, they are required to work together to find answers and solve problems encountered in working environments.

"The majority of our students are working in hospital or health network systems and want to go to the next level in their careers," Bradley says. "They realize they need an advanced degree to do that." Some, too, are in other fields and want to transition into health care.

Zara Ahmad, director of HR at the Palace and Rehabilitation Center in Kendall, says her company's top executives have already promoted her since she enrolled in a specialized MBA program. "My coursework covers challenges I am dealing with in my workplace such as insurance reimbursement and new health care laws," she says. As her facility moves from paper to electronic systems, Ahmad found value in her course on implementing information systems designed specifically for health care.

FIU's health care MBA is an 18-month program in which students move through together, taking two courses per term for a total of four a semester. The school also offers an online option.

"Health care institutions feel their leaders need to be well versed in many areas to understand the big picture to make improvements," Bradley says.

As part of the MBA program, FIU students are enrolled in a Write2Learn program that provides them with an opportunity to improve their writing skills in preparation for a career in health care management. "From the moment they begin our program, students are being prepared to think and write clearly about complex health care issues," Bradley says.

FIU has graduated 263 students with MBAs in health care since 2010 and has 149 students enrolled in the program. 

Florida Atlantic University

Concentration: Sport Management 

When he's not in class, Braden Birch works in hockey operations for the Florida Panthers. Working in the sports industry while enrolled in classes is a requirement in Florida Atlantic University's College of Business MBA sport management program.

Jim Riordan, director of the program, says the requirement has proved crucial for its graduates who have landed permanent management jobs. Several students are paid employees of the FAU athletic department, gaining career experience while still getting their education. Others have worked for the Florida Panthers, Miami Marlins, Miami Dolphins, Miami Heat or the Palm Beach Sports Commission while taking MBA courses.

Riordan says the school recognized that the MBA degree alone would not land students a job. "We just had one student hired by the Yankees and what popped out was the amount of experience during the time he was earning his MBA," Riordan says.

The MBA in sport management at FAU began its first full year in 2000, targeting its program to those who want to become managers and executives on the business side of the sport and entertainment industry, rather than coaches or athletic trainers. Riordan emphasized that the College of Business has obtained the AACSB accreditation, the most recognized form of specialized/ professional accreditation an institution and its business programs can earn. 

While some MBA programs require two to five years of prior work experience, Riordan said his specialization does not. "I feel if you want to bust your tail to get the degree, I will assist to get you the work experience."

To remain in the MBA sport management program, students must register for continuous fall, spring and summer semesters. The school also is starting a part-time program in fall 2015 with the same requirements. The curriculum consists of core courses required of all MBA students, plus a 12-credit specialization in sport management with courses that include sport law, management of sport venues and sport marketing. Riordan says 30 students are enrolled in the program. Because all students take core MBA courses, graduates are prepared for leadership in any industry, and some have taken more general corporate management positions, Riordan says.

FAU sports management MBA graduate Chandra Roberson now works for FAU Athletics in advancement/fundraising. While students in the program tend to be sports fans, Riordan says, "being a fan and working in the industry are two different things." 

University of Florida

Concentration: Real Estate and Urban Analysis

Students concentrating in real estate need 48 total credits — 30 in required coursework and 18 electives. The specialized real estate courses cover fundamentals such as real estate investment analysis and finance, the economics of real estate markets and asset management. For electives, student can focus on areas such as appraisal, investment property analysis and transaction analysis.

For now, the school's five concentrations — strategy, finance, supply chain management, marketing and real estate — are offered only to full-time MBA students. However, the majority of UF's 900 MBA students are working professionals who have a minimum of two years' work experience. Andy Lord, senior director of admissions at Hough Graduate School of Business, says the school will soon add electives and focus areas to a number of its working professional programs, including its online MBA.

"Students are dictating the way we offer our concentrations," Lord says. For now, UF plans to keep its MBA programs for working professionals more general to focus on boosting leadership skills and business strategy.

"We want to give them the education they need to move up in senior level management but at a cost that they can see a return on investment," Lord says. Depending on the option (online, accelerated, two-year, executive) students will pay from $45,000 to $65,000. The UF MBA program continues to be ranked as one of the world's best by the Economist and U.S. News & World Report. 

Nova Southeastern University

Concentration: Entrepreneurship 

Students seeking an MBA at Nova can go the traditional route or choose from 11 concentrations that include human resource management and sales management. One of the more popular MBA concentrations nationally and at Nova is entrepreneurship. Christopher Cabezas, an industrial engineer at American Express, envisions himself owning a ballroom dance studio someday. Cabezas is now halfway into a three-year MBA in the entrepreneurship program for working professionals. He believes his coursework already has given him a good foundation for analyzing franchise versus independent models of dance studio ownership.

Students who enroll in the specialized program take the traditional courses associated with a general MBA in addition to six courses tailored to entrepreneurial development, including internet marketing, venture creation and international trade.

"I have found that most students in the entrepreneurship segment are realizing the marketplace is drastically changing and feel with the MBA they are getting the resources to pursue their business idea or grow an existing business," Cabezas says.

As part of the program, students create feasibility studies and business plans, participate as a team member in consulting assignments, build a reallife portfolio and learn how to start a business, acquire an existing business, expand a business or run a division of a large corporation.

"Our MBA specializations are market-driven and taught by professors who bring real-world practice into the classroom," says J. Preston Jones, dean of the H. Wayne Huizenga School of Business and Entrepreneurship.

Jones says the entrepreneurship concentration is particularly popular with international students who plan to return to their native countries and run family businesses.

This fall, the university will introduce an MBA concentration in business analytics. "Employers want students who can take big data and make sense out of it," Jones says. "We are focusing on that because local businesses are asking for it." 

Jacksonville University

Concentration: Consumer Goods and Services

Don Capener, dean of the Davis School of Business, looks to local employers for insight on which specialized MBA programs to offer.

After consulting with Jacksonville food and packaged goods companies such as Acosta, Bi-Lo, Winn-Dixie, Publix, Sysco and Beaver Street Fisheries, the business school will introduce an MBA concentration in consumer goods and services marketing in the fall.

MBA students already were required to take one marketing course as part of the graduate core. With the new specialization, they will be able to choose three additional courses delving into consumer behavior, purchasing practices and promotional strategy.

"By the time they earn their degree, our students will be able to do analysis, make informed decisions and learn from people in similar positions in the same industry," Capener says.

Bruce Kern, founder of Logix3 and a member of JU's board of trustees, recognized the demand for specialized programs in consumer goods and services after teaching a summer course at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, known for its food marketing program. Kern brought in Richard George, who was instrumental in growing the program at St. Joseph's University, to help create the footprint for Jacksonville University's curriculum.

"The Southeast is a very important center for food retailing and food manufacturing, and we felt it was strongly underserved in higher education," Kern says.

Kern says the school raised $200,000 to launch the program and has commitments for another $500,000 from food retailers, distributors, brokers and technology companies who saw value in the MBA specialization. The companies agreed to fund startup costs and serve on the program's advisory board. The money will go toward recruiting and paying a director, bringing in guest lecturers and marketing the program.

"It's a unique model for higher education," says Kern, who expects that local employers will enroll their midlevel managers who need strategic skills to advance.

Capener says the addition of the new MBA concentration is the first step for the school, which will consider expanding the specialization into the Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) program and as a focus in the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) program.

Along with this new concentration and a general MBA, the university offers concentrations in management, management accounting, and accounting and finance. 

University of South Florida

Concentration: Doctor of Business Administration 

A few Florida universities are stepping up their business school offerings by giving students an option to earn a doctorate in business administration.

In January, the University of South Florida College of Business launched its DBA program for executives and business leaders who have at least a dozen years of upper-level industry experience and want to pursue higher education without interrupting their careers.

Thomas Grandon Gill, a USF professor who earned a DBA from Harvard University, oversees the new degree program. He says the DBA degree at USF differs from the traditional Ph.D. or the executive MBA in that it is intended for working professionals with extensive managerial experience who want to develop a program of research tailored to their specific backgrounds and career goals. All students in the program already have an MBA or master's degree.

"We are teaching them how to use research before and after they make a decision," says Gill.

USF created the three-year program with just 25 executives per cohort. Gill said students participate in traditional classroom studies, online courses and real-world industry studies. As part of their dissertation, student complete in-depth research within their own companies, testing assumptions and comparing alternative solutions to existing challenges in the workplace. They also publish knowledge related to their profession in a variety of professional and public outlets — from scholarly journals to industry publications.

"For executives, it's a way of distinguishing yourself and for the entrepreneur a way to gain access to research and insights you would never find on your own," says Gill, adding that students work in partnership with faculty to explore solutions as they run into real-world business challenges.

Another benefit of the degree is that graduates will have credentials to pursue secondary careers as college professors or lecturers. The 72 credithour program is designed so that participants only meet on campus one weekend a month from August through December and February through June.

"Business executives worldwide indicate that they have always had an interest in earning a Ph.D. but because of their upward career trajectory, they were reluctant to slow their careers to do so," says Moez Limayem, dean of the USF College of Business. "This program has been created with that factor in mind; careful scheduling will allow busy executives to earn the degree without interrupting their careers." 

Florida Institute of Technology

Concentration: Online MBA in Internet Marketing 

Florida Institute of Technology's online program allows students to take 12 courses over two years, one course at a time, in a concentration area where employers continue to report a talent gap.

Students study the effects on businesses of e-commerce, mobile technologies and social media. They also delve into website analytics, search engine optimization and online marketing legal responsibilities. Florida Tech says the MBA in internet marketing is targeted to marketing professionals, executives and entrepreneurs who want an understanding of the tactics and technologies required to implement successful internet marketing strategies. In addition to specialized courses, students also study general business concepts from statistics and managerial economics to accounting as well as engaging in case study analysis and exercising leadership and teamwork skills.

The program was launched in fall 2010 and aimed at working professionals globally who want specialized skills, says Catherine Cook, associate professor and academic chair of marketing and online programs for Florida Institute of Technology's Bisk College of Business. She has found the degree appeals to young professionals who want the educational credentials to stand out, as well as experienced traditional marketing professionals who want to learn digital skills.

Florida Tech has nine additional MBA specializations, including project management and international business. In total, 850 students are enrolled in the business school's online MBA program, says Ann Becker, dean of the business school. "Our specialized programs have great appeal for working professionals and provide them opportunity in a broad spectrum of areas from traditional to emerging areas of business."

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