At Weber, satellite campus has made the difference

Published April 3, 2010 4:00 pm
Education » Ability to draw from three counties gives business school a foundation for global ambitions.
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Going to where the customers are is a well-known bromide of the business world.

Administrators at Weber State University know that, and they also are aware that a lot of other schools in the region offer graduate business degrees. So nearly a decade ago, the Ogden-based university created a niche for itself when it established a Master of Business Administration program in the Davis County city of Clearfield. The idea was to make WSU more accessible for students from three counties, Weber, Davis and Salt Lake.

It worked. The John B. Goddard School of Business and Economics annually educates 170 MBA students and 80 Master of Accounting students at its satellite campus. Some undergraduate courses are taught there, as well, which creates extra space and needed breathing room at the 27-year-old Wattis Business Building on the main campus that is largely dedicated to undergrads.

"We realize who our customers -- our students -- are. Many are nontraditional, and we accommodate that without sacrificing quality," said Ryan Pace, the MA program director.

His counterpart on the MBA side, Matt Mouritsen, said the school's three principles are "quality, being accessible and staying flexible."

"Being [in Clearfield] addresses the accessibility part; teaching evenings and compressing a 15-week course into eight weeks keeps us flexible" for the working student, he said. "The quality part speaks for itself."

And the cost, when stacked up against other institutions, is competitive. The MBA program, if it takes the student two years, costs an average of $15,000. The degree can be earned in a shorter time at a lower cost, but Business Dean Lewis Gale said"nearly every student is working full time," and two years is more realistic.

That cost, he estimated, is significantly lower, by half, than found at larger state universities.

One way WSU's MBA program contains expenses, other than having classes just once a week per course, is by professor-directed use of the Internet.

"This is another plus for flexibility," Mouritsen said.

"During the rest of the week they can work on major research assignments online, and they engage on open online discussions with their classmates," said Mouritsen. "If they want, they can 'talk' one-on-one with their professors.

"It's amazing how people come out of their shells online."

The Hill connection » The satellite campus' in Clearfield also is close to a built-in student generator -- Hill Air Force Base. Hundreds of government contractors work there alongside Air Force personnel assigned to tours of duty. Mouritsen said perhaps 20 percent of Weber Clearfield students come from Hill.

That's true for Eric Kom, 34, who started the Weber MBA program while a base captain and continued after he left the military last year. Another student, James Davis, 23, works on base as a cost analyst in the federal government's Student Career Experience Program. Both expect to earn graduate degrees this summer.

Kom, who lives in Salt Lake City and devotes his full time to school so he can wrap up his course work, said he was attracted to Weber and its Clearfield campus because of the proximity to Hill and its class atmosphere.

"That, and the schedule works for me," he said.

Because he is not employed, he is taking two MBA classes at a time -- something Mouritsen and his colleagues do not recommend for working students.

"I have the time but, believe me, it's not easy," Kom said on a night he was preparing for an economics class. "It's pretty rough. If I was working, I definitely would not take two at a time." His penultimate goal is to go for an additional graduate degree in architecture somewhere out of state. His ultimate goal is be a team leader for a major architectural firm. That's why he wants the MBA. He believes it will give him broader management credentials, something a degree in architecture won't do by itself.

For Davis, who lives in Ogden, his goal is to rise through the civilian ranks in the U.S. Department of Defense, eventually landing at the Pentagon.

"To be in the Student Career Experience Program you have to be going after a graduate degree," said the 2009 Weber State graduate in accounting. He's pursuing an MBA, despite a strong interest in tax issues, because, like Kom, he wants a broader educational experience.

And he also is going against professorial advice and taking two classes this semester despite working full time. One is a tax class, which is counted as an elective toward the 12 classes required by the MBA program.

"There's plenty to do," he averred, "when you put together the class work and the online component."


Fast track » Although the MBA program is designed for two years, the master's in accounting can be completed in one year if a student goes straight through, said MA director Pace. Unlike the MBA program, which has classes only in the evening, some graduate accounting classes start in the afternoon. And, for this program, there is no online component.

Most of Pace's students are pushing for Certified Public Accountant licenses, which in Utah is an especially rigorous process; others are focusing on taxes. And there are a few who are on a MBA track and want a MA, as well.

Although the MBA program went to the Davis campus 10 years ago, graduate accounting moved just three years ago.

Because of the move, "we are teaching students today who otherwise we would not be teaching," Pace said. Before, "it was difficult to accommodate these students on [the main] campus."

Like nearly all business professors, Nazneen Ahmad teaches undergraduates and graduates in both locations. She is a specialist in financial economics whose career has included stops at the University of New Orleans and Portland State University.

She likes Weber State's size -- 23,000 students -- and the fact that her classes are generally no larger than 40 students.

"At Portland State, I had classes of 100 or more. Here, I know my students, I know everybody's face and their names." She said in her department, professors mingle socially with students, something unheard of at much larger campuses.


A world view » For undergraduate and graduate students alike, Weber's business school puts an emphasis on educating them to work in a broader world.

Developing a world view "is critical to the future success of our graduates," said Dean Gale. "We've been improving our offerings" in the direction of preparing students to work in an increasingly global economy.

Weber is "in the process of introducing an [undergraduate] degree that will have global competencies at its core," he said. Gale declined to go into detail until everything is hammered out through Weber's administration, but he said it will be mark a significant extension of the school's emphasis on international economics -- his particular academic discipline.

For now, MBA students get the opportunity to take field trips to foreign locations where they study businesses firsthand. In January, a group traveled to Chile. Other groups have been to China, and to western and eastern Europe. A trip to examine German businesses is in the works for this summer.

The goal of these programs -- and the undergraduate global-degree program in development -- is to help students become "competent globally," the dean said -- "either as the member of a team or in leading an organization that has global reach."


Weber State U. business school numbers:

Undergraduates » 2,300

Graduate students » 280

Average undergraduate class size » 32

Average graduate class size » 29

Full-time faculty » 45

Undergraduate degrees conferred in the past 12 months » 402

Graduate degrees conferred in the past 12 months » 126

Average years of work experience of graduate students » eight

Average age of graduate students » 34

Source: John B. Goddard School of Business & Economics

About this series

This is the fifth in a series of occasional stories about the business schools at Utah's universities and colleges, which are being transformed to meet the demands of a changing world.



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