There’s no shortage of change at America’s business schools, and for several local institutions, that change begins at the top.

In less than two years, five area business schools have appointed permanent or interim deans. These leaders are tasked with devising a strategy that will guide their respective schools through what many academics say is one of the most disruptive periods in business education to date.

For one, student enrollment patterns are shifting. The full-time MBA program, once a mainstay of most business schools, is starting to fall out of favor. Instead, some students are opting for part-time programs, online programs or specialized degrees that allow them to continue working while they study.

Technology has also upended the classroom experience. Universities that would have previously looked down on Web-based courses and degrees are clamoring to create online programs that offer students greater convenience without compromising academic caliber. Even students still seated in desk chairs are integrating handheld devices and video lectures, among other technologies, in innovative ways.

Capital Business spoke with the newest leaders in Washington business education to hear how each of them is approaching their new position and tackling the unique challenges facing business schools today.


 


Andrew Abela is dean of the business school at Catholic University of America. (Photo by Jeffrey MacMillan/Capital Business)

Andrew Abela
Catholic University of America
Appointed dean: January 2013.
Joined university: August 2002.
Academic specialty: Marketing and ethics.

Catholic University made the decision two years ago to expand its business and economics programs from a department to a stand-alone school, a move that Dean Andrew Abela said was designed to give the school and its degrees greater cachet among students, faculty and prospective employers.

The decision has meant enrolling more students and hiring new faculty, as well as starting to develop new academic offerings, such as the school’s first MBA program. In an area already crowded with well-regarded business schools, Abela said he believes Catholic University has an advantage over its peers: The school’s direct connection to the Vatican, a distinction unique not just in the region but the country, means its teachings are rooted in Catholicism as well as capitalism.

What do you view as the most important role of the dean?

The single most important role I would say is faculty recruitment and development. Although we need good students to be a good school, over the long term, the main driving factor of the quality of the school is going to be the quality of the teaching and research.

What is the biggest challenge facing business schools today?

This is going to sound self-serving because this is what we were established to do, but the business community as a whole has a challenge to demonstrate their contributions to society. So business schools have a responsibility to demonstrate to their students and the world at large the contributions of business, the good that business does.

How are students’ needs and demands different today compared with five years ago?

The job market is much tougher now than it was five years ago, so they’re looking for more help in terms of career discernment and placement. At the undergraduate level, … we have a number of required activities, which include a series of courses in career development that begin freshman year. We have a specialized master’s in business analysis, which is a crash course in business for students who didn’t study business as undergraduates. The career preparation is even more intense there. It’s two semesters long, and the students take an internship in the morning and then take class in the afternoon and evening.

How has demand for your programs changed?

Demand is very strong both at the graduate and undergraduate level. We’re only two years old as a school. We were a department before that within the School of Arts and Sciences. We had 167 freshman in our undergraduate class this year, up from 130 last year and about 100 the year before. We’re seeing really strong demand to the distinctive focus of our school on the human approach and moral approach to business, which we think, particularly among young people, really resonates well.

Why transition from a department to a standalone school ?

It gives us greater autonomy within the university than as a department in terms of hiring faculty. It’s also symbolic. Some students and employers have a problem taking you seriously if you’re just a department rather than an actual business school. In student placement, we had cases where students would tell us they went on interviews and they say, “How can we take your education seriously, you didn’t go to a business school?”

Have you had to market the new school to students and others?

There’s been quite a bit of publicity around us because of what we think is our distinctive position. We are part of Catholic University of America, which is the only Catholic university in the United States that is directly owned by the Catholic Church. We take the Catholic ethos of our university very, very seriously, so among business leaders who try to live as faithful Catholics in business, they found the creation of our school very exciting.


 


Alexander J. Triantis is the dean of the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. (Photo by Jeffrey MacMillan/Capital Business)

Alexander J. Triantis
University of Maryland, College Park
Appointed dean: September 2013.
Joined university: September 1995.
Academic specialty: Finance.

Alexander J. Triantis expects the number of business schools to decline in the coming years as competition for top-notch students and faculty becomes too fierce for some programs to remain viable. As dean of the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, Triantis’s job is to ensure his program makes the cut.

To that end, Triantis said the business school is supplementing its traditional degrees with those in emerging fields, such as marketing analytics, as well as devising online and in-person programs that will likely appeal to nontraditional business students

The school plans to introduce minors in business starting next fall for undergraduates studying other disciplines, such as engineering, the arts or communications. At the graduate level, a one-year master’s degree was recently added to provide students who haven’t studied business with an overview of finance, accounting, marketing and other subjects.

What do you view as the most important role of the dean?

Shaping the future strategy of the school, which now is probably more important than ever to try to have a clear sense of where the strategic direction of the school is. Given all the disruption that has occurred within education as a whole, and business education specifically, unless we try to think a few steps ahead about what programs we want and the overall experience students have, quite frankly, some business schools won’t be around in a few years.

What is the biggest challenge facing business schools today?

We’ve had this huge increase in the number of business schools. There is an intense challenge right now and intense competition for really top students and that has become more heated than in the past, particularly for full-time MBA students. At the same time, you have this huge demand for top talent in the faculty ranks, [and] you don’t really see doctoral programs increasing the number of students they bring in.

Is a traditional MBA still worth the money?

I think it is. First of all, I should point out this past year we had an increase of about 30 percent for our full-time MBA program. I haven’t looked carefully, but I think that’s one of the highest increases in the nation. Clearly, there’s still a demand there, so that’s a good thing.

Is the value there? I think that is the clear question. The value comes from providing something that is unique. Something you couldn’t get by picking up books or doing a less sophisticated online program. It comes from the network of alumni you’re involved in and connection to companies. You see it in the long-term return on investment.

What is one big change you’ve made in your first year?

One of the key areas I think we have a great opportunity being at a top-tier university like Maryland is we have great departments and great students outside of the business school, as well. One thing I’m trying to do is take advantage of partnerships in different colleges across the university. We now have a business minor for students who are not in the business school as an undergraduate. This allows a top student in engineering or liberal arts to get a minor in general business or innovation and entrepreneurship, or business and analytics.

You said some business schools won’t be around in a few years. What did you mean by that?

Some are predicting over the next five or 10 years that business schools will go under or there will be consolidation. There’s going to be a line, and I don’t know how far down in the rankings that line will be, where the schools that are below a certain ranking are going to struggle to find the best students if those students have more opportunities to find that education at a lower price point.


 


Sarah Nutter is the dean of the business school at George Mason University. (Photo by Jeffrey MacMillan/Capital Business)

Sarah Nutter
George Mason University
Appointed dean: June 2013 (acting); March 2014 (permanent).
Joined university: Fall 1995.
Academic specialty: Accounting and tax policy.

Sarah Nutter made a tough and, to some, controversial call when she was appointed interim dean of George Mason University’s business school: She eliminated the school’s full-time MBA program. Long considered the flagship of any business school, full-time MBA programs today are struggling with enrollment and profitability at many universities outside the top tier. Thus, Nutter believes other schools could soon follow George Mason’s lead. The decision frees up money and other resources to create more customized programs. The school recently introduced a Master’s in Management of Secure Information Systems, colloquially called the Master’s in Cybersecurity, as well as an executive MBA program tailored to existing defense and contracting professionals. In the Washington region, there’s no limit on prospective students for such programs, Nutter said.

What is the biggest challenge facing business schools today?

State funding is a big issue for us. It’s a declining percentage of the overall budget of the university. There’s no question in a public institution that’s one of our big challenges, how to bridge the gap. We at Mason and in the business school, as well, have long been looking at ways to become more efficient on the cost side of the proposition. Our cost to educate a student at Mason has remained relatively flat over the last decade. We’ve been driving efficiencies. The question you have in a state institution is how much could you increase the tuition rates without challenging the affordability issue.

Is a traditional MBA still worth the money?

The answers is it depends. We actually did end up cancelling our full-time MBA program about 18 months ago. Most full-time MBA programs don’t make money. The competition for graduate business education is fierce to start out with, so you’ve seen a decline in the number of full-time MBA programs nationally. We at Mason have always had really strong and highly qualified students in our part-time programs. We really have evolved to serve the professional community.

How has demand for your programs changed?

Demand mix has changed substantially for us over time. We’re doing more specialized master’s programs. We have a M.S. in cybersecurity … that program is a model of the new type [of degree] in the sense it’s a collaborative degree program between the business school, school of engineering and the public policy school. It’s been really quite successful. Those specialized master’s programs are the way of the future, in many respects.

What factors did you consider when ending the full-time MBA program?

It starts with enrollment. There was a strategy decision made to invest in the full-time MBA program to enhance the overall ranking of the program, but also with an eye to using that as a mechanism to drive the ranking of the whole school. You have to invest a lot of resources in it. Student acquisition is very expensive with scholarships, graduate assistantships, and tuition waivers.

The amount that we as the business school were spending to try to acquire students to build reputation was not going to move the dime enough. Even though we were investing large dollar amounts, the pool of those that were seeking a full-time MBA declined, and the packages that were being offered [by other schools], we couldn’t compete. It really was a strategic decision for us whether we could support the dollars necessary to … create the highest quality MBA program. It just didn’t add up for us.  

You’ve developed graduate programs for government contractors. Does the slowdown in government spending worry you? 

I’m not worried that the federal government is going to go away anytime soon. There will always be a role for the government partner, those that will be supporting the role of the government. If we can educate those that will be working on either side of this, those that are working for the government or government contracting, so they can be better, then that’s a wonderful win for everyone.


 


Linda Livingstone is dean of George Washington University’s business school. (Photo by Jeffrey MacMillan/Capital Business)

Linda A. Livingstone
George Washington University
Appointed dean: August 2014.
Joined university: August 2014.
Academic specialty: Organizational behavior and human resources management.

Linda A. Livingstone is not only new to George Washington University, but to the Washington region as a whole. She recently spent more than a decade on the California coast as dean of the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University. But trading a beach town for a bureaucratic one has its advantages, she said.

Livingstone said Washington offers a unique backdrop to study business because of the city’s deep connections to public policy and international affairs. Those are two trends shaping business and economics today, Livingstone said, and GWU already offers strong programs in each that can complement students’ business education.

What do you view as the most important role of the dean?

It’s an interesting question because there is so much a dean gets the opportunity to do on a daily basis. One, the dean has a really critical role as the external face of the business school to the business community, alumni, donors, etc. That external face and building relationships externally is really critical. Because I am not from the Washington, D.C., area, I want to get out into the business community and connect with some of the business community in town to begin to understand better what are some of those needs in the community.

Is a traditional MBA still worth the money?

I feel very strongly that a MBA is a very worthwhile degree, and one that adds tremendous value for students today. It does it on a number levels. From a financial perspective, it’s a benefit to students versus not having one. But more than that …  I think a MBA helps really expand the perspective of a student and helps them understand business more broadly. It helps them understand the role of business in society. It makes them more sophisticated in the way they think about business.

What is the biggest challenge facing business schools today?

I’m the chair of the board of the directors of [the business school accreditation body] AACSB. Through that role, I have the opportunity to engage with business school deans and leadership all over the world. The biggest challenge for business schools, particularly at the graduate level, is for business schools to understand as we look to the future how business is changing, how the world is changing. How we have to grow and develop and evolve as business schools to really help business do what it needs to do in society and prepare leaders for society. The world has changed so much that that’s probably become a little more challenging.

How are students’ needs and demands different today compared with five years ago?

There’s a couple of things I’ve noticed about students. They are much more concerned about the societal impact that business has. They clearly want to be successful. They want to have a job that pays them effectively. But I see students far more concerned about the impact on the environment, the impact business has on people.

Why come to GW?

For me, GW is interesting in a variety of ways. The fact that it’s located in Washington, D.C., is really an exceptional opportunity. It enables us to be at the nexus of business, policy and society issues. I saw that as a great draw that would give us unique opportunity to do things you can’t do in a lot of business schools.

I absolutely believe there is a tremendous role for business schools in that space of business and policy and society. I sometimes think that in business we don’t always recognize the impact businesses have on the policy world or the impact the policy world can have on business. I think there’s tremendous opportunity in that space, especially at a place like GW, where you have really strong programs in other parts of the school.


 


Erran Carmel is the interim dean of the business school at American University. (Photo by Jeffrey MacMillan/Capital Business)

Erran Carmel
American University
Appointed dean: June 2014 (interim).
Joined university: Fall 1991.
Academic specialty: Management information systems.

Erran Carmel was named interim dean of American University’s Kogod School of Business earlier this summer, a title that would imply he’s merely filling in for a yet-to-be named replacement. But Carmel will hold the position for at least two years, and the university’s provost has specifically asked him to act as a “change agent,” he said.

For one of the area’s smaller business schools, that means carving out an identity that’s unique from local and national competitors that may have higher rankings or greater brand recognition. To that end, Carmel said the school must develop a strategy that highlights its academic differences and incorporates the technology modern students have come to expect.

What do you view as the most important role of the dean?

The dean has to set, together with the faculty, a vision for the school. A business school is a large operation and if there’s no common vision then different units go in their different ways. It’s important, just like with any business, that there be a common vision and a common strategy.

I had a special vantage point as an insider, so I’ve been privy to the discussion of our strategy for many years. So when I came in with faculty and department chairs and various deans, we quickly converged on some key directions. One is digital and the other is distinctiveness.

What is the biggest challenge facing business schools today?

Let’s split this into content and demand. On the demand side, the marketplace is changing very, very quickly. The students themselves, when they make a decision they want a graduate education, … they have a menu of choices of online and part-time and blended and hybrid and full-time programs, and they’re increasingly unsure about what to do.

On the content side, we as teachers have a challenge, too. We teach content where there are new topics that come up at an increasingly faster pace. One new area, for example, is analytics. We’re introducing an analytics master’s of science. It’s rolling out in the fall of 2015. This is the kind of new topic that emerges and quickly the business school market has to respond to.

How are students’ needs and demands different today compared with five years ago?

The professionalism of our career centers at Kogod, and I think it’s true in business schools across the country, has really increased. We help the student as soon as they walk in the door. We help them throughout the process to find internships and part-time jobs. We help them at the critical point of finding their first post-degree job and we often help them afterward in the transitions after their first job. The expectation that the business school itself be responsible in part for one’s career, I think, has increased. Also, at the undergraduate level, we’re seeing that.

You mentioned the school is trying to be more distinct. How so?

One of the areas that we are focusing on is engaging further with the city. We do a lot of things with businesses and organizations in the city with guests and classes, but now we’re doing that with greater intensity. For example, we designed our new MBA program, and we’ve launched that with a hallmark intensive course of two weeks where the students every day from morning to evening have intensive immersion in the city. We have them visit everything from the [Securities and Exchange Commission] to Deloitte Consulting to Union Market. They’ve really gotten a flavor of D.C. business and how great the city is as a business city.

What is the digital strategy?

What we see are very interesting directions in the marketplace in terms of technology and digital, and it’s happening very fast. If anyone tells you in what direction we’re going, then they really don’t know what they’re talking about. The whole Kogod strategy is to put some of our efforts in online degrees and courses, some of our efforts in blended programs, and we also have to introduce more technology into learning in the classroom. Clearly the old model of the teacher that comes in and lectures is extinct.