Local business schools set up degree programs away — but not far from — campus

Georgetown University may be just 20 miles from Tysons Corner, but during a traffic-heavy time of day, what would otherwise be a short distance can feel like an endless slog.

That’s was one reason leaders at the region’s top-ranked business school were seeing a smaller-than-expected number of applicants from Northern Virginia for its evening MBA program.

Now the university is taking the program to them. Georgetown will offer a part-time MBA program this fall with classes at an office in Tysons. Applications are due April 1.

“We came up with pretty clear evidence that there was not only an existing, but growing market, of MBA-ready professionals [in Tysons] that we were going to have a difficult time catering to because of logistical problems,” said Elaine Romanelli, senior associate dean for MBA programs.

Several local business schools are creating or expanding graduate degree programs that students complete at outposts around the Washington region. The strategy, many academic leaders said, is to make their programs more convenient to where students live and work.

The University of Maryland’s business school began offering a part-time MBA program in Shady Grove back in 1975. It added programs in Baltimore in 1999, then the District a year later.

“Being a part of a state university, we feel that’s a very important part of our mission, to offer programs to the people of Maryland,” Associate Dean Ken White said. “If we’re going to serve the state, you need to go to those areas where there is population to do that.”

The MBA and other graduate programs offered at those sites now attract hundreds of students, each of whom may not have enrolled if they had to attend class at the university’s main campus in College Park.

Part-time graduate students are often balancing nonacademic commitments, such as a job or family, which means universities must increasingly find ways to make their programs fit the students’ schedules, White said.

The University of Maryland, for example, is preparing to announce a new two-year MBA program in the District that only requires students to attend class in person every other Saturday.

“I think schools are finally realizing ... the importance of the marketplace and the audience. If you don’t listen to them and offer what they desire, you’re not going to be in business very long,” he said.

American University has taken a different approach to geographic expansion. For years, the business school has offered two master’s degree programs in Northern Virginia exclusively for the employees of a large, unnamed company.

Dean Michael Ginzberg said the school is now looking to create similar programs in partnership with other local corporations or trade groups. Typically, the partners nominate individuals for the graduate programs, and American University admits those who meet its academic requirements, Ginzberg said.

“This has gotten to be a very competitive market, and honestly everyone seems to be moving to the Tysons area now,” Ginzberg said. “For that reason, we’ll be a little bit careful. I’m not sure I want to go head-to-head with everybody in a very competitive space [when] for the same effort I can develop something with an individual employer and group.”

The Center for Innovative Technology in Herndon has played host to a George Mason University executive MBA program for more than a decade. The Fairfax-based university also has a campus in Arlington and has experimented with classes in both Prince William and Loudoun counties.

The geographic distribution, even if all the programs are located within Northern Virginia, allows the school to attract a broad range of students and tailor their programs to industries that are dominant in those areas, such as bioscience or federal contracting.

Where students prefer to attend classes “depends on their commuting pattern and their age and when they get out of work and when the courses are offered,” said Jean-Pierre Auffret, director of executive degree programs.

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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