Archive for September, 2011

So This Is What A CSUF MBA Course Is Like…

I just completed four weeks of class at CSUF, and would like to share some observations I’ve made about my first MBA courses.  I am taking two courses (since I’m working full-time and studying part-time), Seminar in Managerial Accounting and Seminar in Organizational Behavior and Administration.  The course material and MBA classes themselves are quite different, but I am enjoying each for numerous reasons.

I will admit, my feelings towards school were probably similar to those of others throughout high school and college.  I never particularly looked forward to a new school year or semester starting, and mainly viewed school as the next required stepping stone to the next stage of my life.  Do not get me wrong, I enjoy learning and attending school.  However, I was less a fan of writing papers and working on projects, so I was never excited about the prospect of working on those again when the new school year started.

This year has been quite different (so far).  I was genuinely excited about starting the CSUF MBA program, learning business topics and addressing issues from a manager’s perspective, and gaining business and personal insights from my classmates.  I have been working full-time for the last two years, and was excited for the opportunities and change of pace the CSUF MBA program would provide for me as well.

Now, back to the courses.  As I had mentioned previously, the two courses are significantly different from one another.  Managerial Accounting, taught by Dr. Vijay Karan, is what I would consider a typical college class.  We are expected to read each day’s chapters ahead of time, and Dr. Karan then discusses the topics – which we were expected to read – in class.  He does not lecture using slides, but instead is continuously writing on the whiteboard.  He demonstrates accounting and costing techniques, and we spend the majority of the course working practice problems.  Dr. Karan wants to ensure we understand the accounting processes covered in the course, and therefore demonstrates numerous problems during class (and sometimes it seems as if we are doing the same problems over and over).  But his hope is that we will learn the material better by doing problems, and that all the problems will help the processes sink into our brains.  I hope he is right, because I have a case study due Monday and need these concepts and techniques to start to click in order to do well on the work!

Organizational Behavior and Administration is taught by Dr. John (Jay) Barbuto, Jr.  His teaching philosophy revolves around activities and group discussions.  I find myself really enjoying his class, especially because the activities tend to involve me applying the concepts we learn to my employer and my professional situation.  For example, last week each student had to describe their company’s organizational culture, and specifically cover the three elements that make up organizational culture.  These include observable artifacts (physical objects in the office that illustrate a company’s culture, like a dress code), values (both those stated in the company’s mission statement, and those it actually carries out), and basic assumptions (unwritten rules that all employees are aware exist in their office).  I enjoyed putting into words many of the elements of culture I had observed at work, but had never consciously acknowledged or realized contributed to my organization’s culture.  This week we took several tests to determine our emotional intelligence, and discussed why this was important in the workplace.  (In case you are wondering, managers typically have to have high emotional intelligence because a lot of the issues they face are people-related and relationship-related).  I found out through this test that I have a low level of internal motivation, and I need to find ways to improve that characteristic.

The two courses do have one major similarity.  Both professors expect the students to have read the course material before coming to class, because they discuss those topics in the classroom.  In my undergraduate studies, I could normally ignore the reading that was assigned because the professor would typically cover the same material in their class lectures.  Graduate school in significantly different because the professors’ lectures build upon what the students should have already read.  So I have found myself feeling a little lost on occasion when I have not come to class properly prepared.  A word of advice for prospective graduate students – stay on top of your reading because that is often the foundation of your class lectures and activities.

This week, I would also like to debut something I hope to make a continuous part of my weekly posts.  I am constantly reading business articles and often discover many I find particularly insightful or useful.  I will start adding a few the end of my blog posts because I would like to share those articles I think might be entertaining or interesting for others to read:

This week’s articles:

How to Break Out of a Career Rut (Dave Logan, bnet.com) – I liked how short and concise this article was, and it made a career change sound so easy!  I have yet to try Mr. Logan’s techniques, but his advice seemed particularly appropriate in these challenging economic times.

http://www.bnet.com/blog/tribal/how-to-break-out-of-a-career-rut/692?tag=content;drawer-container

Are Business Schools Creating Higher-Ambition Leaders? (Michael Beer, Harvard Business Review Blog Network) – Mr. Beer calls for an update to MBA programs’ curriculum, and I tend to agree with him after reading the article.  I am particularly intrigued by his call to business schools to teach students how to develop and implement business strategies that are grounded in their personal values.

http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/09/business_school_higher_ambition.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

Are You Training Yourself to Fail? (Peter Bregman, Harvard Business Review Blog Network) – I often find myself feeling frustrated at the end of long, unproductive days.  I identified with Mr. Bregman’s productivity issue in his article (especially staying up late watching internet videos), and want to implement some of my own rituals to keep myself productive and on task.

http://blogs.hbr.org/bregman/2011/09/are-you-training-yourself-to-f.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

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The Value of a CSUF MBA

I do not like saying “I told you so,” but it was a nice surprise to read an article validating my decision to enroll in CSUF’s MBA program.  The article, “Have B-Schools Become Debtors’ Prisons?” was published on Fortune Magazine’s website (August 18, 2011) and described why many current graduates from top-tier MBA programs are being plagued by high levels of debt after graduation.

First, I feel some background might be helpful.  When I was deciding which MBA programs to apply to, I was told by several colleagues that I should do everything in my power to try and get accepted into a top-tier school.  This meant finding a school with a top notch reputation, such as UCLA, or one with a well-connected alumni network, like USC.  However, I knew those schools would be challenging for me to get into, and even more challenging to pay for.  I was waitlisted at University of Washington (Seattle), but after crunching the numbers I decided it would be much too expensive.  My options were definitely limited because of my financial situation, and from a value standpoint CSUF’s Mihaylo School of Business of Economics made the most sense for me.  So far I have been very happy with my decision to attend the graduate program.

This brings me back full-circle to the Fortune.com article.  It was encouraging to read that attending a top-tier MBA program does not automatically put you on the fast track to financial success.  In fact, since an MBA degree is such a substantial investment, students can often take a step backwards financially when they first complete their degree.  To illustrate this point, the article provides several average MBA student debt loads.  At Pepperdine University, students can expect to graduate with approximately $66,242 in debt, and those amounts increase as the schools’ prestige grows.  Stanford: $71,403 in debt.  Dartmouth: $98,500 in debt.  Wharton: $109,836 in debt.  Those amounts are several times larger than my first car loan!

Several reasons are cited as the cause for such high debt loads, including increasing tuition and stagnant salaries.  Ever-increasing tuition costs are making MBA degrees more expensive to pursue and forcing students to incur higher-debt loads in order to cover their tuition.  To make things worse, salaries have not grown at the rates many employees expected and this makes the repayment of loans more challenging.  The article explains that students from graduate schools rated Nos. 40-50 earned an average salary of $81,599.  The salary situation for top-10 rated MBA programs appears to be a little less challenging, but an MBA degree from a top program does not guarantee financial success.  The article describes how Wharton graduates earn annual salaries that range from as high as $350,000 to as low as $25,000.  This wide range of salaries makes it difficult for students to conduct useful cost-benefit analysis when comparing graduate programs, thus making an important decision in many students’ lives more unclear.

All these issues with debt and salaries lead to problems for MBA graduates.  Some have to select less prestigious schools because they cannot afford a specific program’s tuition payments (to me, the top-10 MBA programs are only necessary if one is planning to pursue a career on Wall Street or in high finance, and even then their employer should probably be helping defray some of the costs).  I believe that students that have to select a slightly less-prestigious MBA program will need to put in extra effort in order to ensure they achieve all the goals they set for themselves.  Other MBA graduates may be forced to find occupations in fields they do not enjoy or excel in, because they have to choose a better pay check over a better work-life balance or pursuing their dreams.

All these issues identified in the article lead me to believe that MBA schools will need to reevaluate their tuition situations in order to ensure prospective students are not priced out of MBA degrees.  Business schools will also need to ensure that their curriculum properly prepares students for a successful life in business.  Economies and businesses are evolving rapidly with changes in technology and globalization.  Graduate students will want to ensure that they are getting good value for the money they spend on an MBA degree, and will likely be more diligent when conducting cost-benefit analysis of various programs.  MBA programs would be best served to limit future tuition increases and focus on preparing graduates for their careers in the rapidly changing business world.  I believe the schools that are able to differentiate themselves based on those criteria will be the ones that attract the largest numbers of prospective MBA students.

That’s A Lot of Handshakes…

My first exposure to the actual CSUF MBA program (that was not just some flyer or school-sponsored information session) came two weeks ago, when I attended the 2011 Mihaylo College of Business and Economics Welcome Seminar.  The seminar is a required element for MBA and other graduate business students and takes place during one weekend on Friday and Saturday.  The weekend is so important in fact, that if you miss any part of the weekend you have to attend again the following year.  I was actually quite excited going into the event, and was hoping the weekend would show what I could look forward to from the program.

All the graduate business students (which include MBAs, Accounting, Information Systems, and Taxation students) were welcomed on each day by various Mihaylo College of Business and Economics administrators and professors.  Dean Anil Puri welcomed us all on Friday morning, and the rest of each day’s introductions were conducted by Van Muse, the MBA Director.  He actually provided facts and statistics about the incoming Mihaylo graduate class, which I personally had some trouble tracking down when researching the program.  Our class is the largest in the school’s history, with over 42% of the students coming from outside the United States, the class average GMAT score is 577, and the average student age is 26 years old.  The introductions also included information about the program’s Value Proposition, the key elements and characteristics the program intends to emphasize and instill in its students.  These include hard work, dedication, street-smarts (meaning that students understand how to apply the principles they learn in the classroom in business situations), an integrated real-world curriculum, and access to the largest and most diverse alumni network in Southern California.

All this information was helpful, but I wanted more details about organizations I could participate in and ways in which I could enrich my MBA experience.  The staff talked about numerous opportunities available to students, which included the ACG Cup (a business valuation competition), SBI National Case Study Competition (which CSUF has won awards in 18 of the last 19 years), international study trips, guest speakers, 15 Centers of Excellence, and various other business clubs on campus.  The Centers of Excellence sound especially appealing to me – they offer volunteer and paid opportunities in areas as diverse as entrepreneurship, small business consulting, leadership, the entertainment industry, and insurance studies.  I am particularly intrigued by the Economics Education center and am currently in communication with its Director, Dr. Radha Bhattacharya, about potential volunteer opportunities.  I feel economics is a topic that needs to be covered in middle schools and high schools, and if done properly would go a long way towards education citizens about our current economic climate.  If students were given the tools and knowledge to understand how and why economies function, they might one day help solve economics crises like those we currently face.  I know that the more effort and enthusiasm I put into the MBA program the more I will get out of it, so I am making it my priority to ensure I participate in as many activities and organizations as I possibly can.

The bulk of the weekend was spent attending 8 seminars presented by Mihaylo staff and guest speakers that covered a variety of topics.  Some covered areas relevant to future coursework, such as an introduction to the Capstone course and tips on how to succeed when doing a case study.  Others provided information about how to find success in the MBA program or the importance of networking.  The rest of the sessions consisted of topics ranging from discussions about leadership to my personal favorite, a discussion about the importance of creativity in business.  That seminar was presented by an artist from San Francisco who is a colleague of Dean Puri.  The presenter’s discussion started with the origins of language and eventually maneuvered its way to our modern understanding of how the brain works (left-brain vs. right-brain thinkers) and how as a society we can sometimes tend to think of people as being one type of thinker or another.  But the argument was made that too many logical, analytical people are working in business, drowning out those that tend to be more creative thinkers.  The logical and analytic approach to business can be seen in businesses that continuously try to improve processes and squeeze out ever-diminishing margins.  The argument was made however, that creativity and innovation were the principles that made American business successful in the past, and that is needed again if we are to continue to find success in business.  I found that seminar to be especially eye-opening, mainly due to the different perspective the speaker took on business and the importance of merging logical and creative thinking into businesses.  He recommended a book by Daniel Pink, “A Whole New Mind,” which covers many of the topics we discussed, and I’ve added this book to me personal reading list!

All in all, I found the Welcome Seminar weekend to be a great event!  There were a couple of items I would have preferred we did not do, like speed networking (it’s too hard to remember the names of people you meet when you only get 60 seconds to talk with them) and the discussion on the Capstone course (which just got students too concerned about how the course would be graded, even though most of us will not be taking it for at least another three semesters).  I believe the networking I did with my future classmates was the most beneficial part of the weekend.  I met four fantastic classmates that I spent a great deal of the weekend with; we are already planning on getting together for pizza and several of us have courses together.  I also now see lots of other people I met that weekend in my classes – that helps things feel less overwhelming and it’s nice to have familiar people to partner with during discussions and projects in those classes.  I’m really excited for the MBA program, and need to make sure that I continue meeting new people and working to get the most I can out of this opportunity.  No one else can make this experience worthwhile for me – that is my responsibility and I can’t wait to see what new people I met and experiences I have during my first semester!