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The Business of Choosing Undergraduate Business Programs

This past spring Bloomberg Business Week announced that 2016 would be the last year that the magazine would produce a ranking of undergraduate business programs. This was not a bad idea. Seventy-five percent of the ranking was based on surveys from graduates and recruiters; the remainder was based on student success at obtaining internships as well as starting salaries, adjusted for regional differences.

Whenever rankings weigh heavily on opinions on undergraduate business programs, or most anything else, you are likely to see them fluctuate wildly from year to year. That’s precisely what happened with the Bloomberg rankings of undergraduate business programs–and it probably explains why they are going away.

For example, Villanova, the top-ranked undergraduate business school for 2016, jumped 23 places from the previous year. Their men’s basketball team, which won the NCAA title around the same time the rankings came out, probably competed on a more level playing field. The reason for Villanova’s high ranking? The high scores on the employer and student surveys. The university, while well located near Philadelphia ranked only 29th for starting salaries. If you look down the ranking, Indiana University-Bloomington, the highest rated public school is actually the better buy. Indiana charges less for tuition and fees, room and board for a non resident than Villanova charges for tuition and fees alone while Indiana graduates earn higher starting salaries. Also, like Villanova, Indiana has also been quite successful in men’s basketball.

With these rankings going away, how should students and parents consider an undergraduate business program?

It depends on a student’s academic preparation and how serious s/he is about a business education.

The schools that appear in the Bloomberg ranking have one thing in common: they are accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), a global organization that includes over 1,500 schools as members, several are accredited, but several are not. Accredited business programs have a set of standards as do accredited accounting programs. Accounting programs must also offer arrangements to help students become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in the state where the school is located. This might be a joint bachelors/masters program in states where a CPA requires 150 credits of accounting, business and liberal arts courses.

Accredited business programs have similar entrance course requirements. These include not only introductory courses in Accounting and Economics during the freshman and sophomore years but also calculus and statistics. High school students who seek admission to the business school within a mid size or large university should have taken calculus in high school or be ready to take it in college after a rigorous pre-calculus course. If your high school offers Accounting and Economics, especially for honors or advanced placement, it would wise to choose these courses as junior or senior year electives as a preview for college.

Students who fear math will find an undergraduate business program exceptionally difficult. Those who are not willing to overcome the fear or seek help might want to consider other academic options. While calculus is rarely used within the business world, successful professionals in areas such as accounting, finance, human resource management and marketing are comfortable interpreting numbers and explaining trends derived from them.

Accredited undergraduate business programs at large and mid sized schools offer different options for admissions. Some will admit freshmen immediately and let them sink or swim. Others will admit freshmen to a pre-business track, then admit them to the business school as juniors, provided that they maintained a minimum GPA or better in the required courses. Some schools offer both options but make the transfer process a greater academic challenge for those who want to switch to the business school.

If you are serious about business and want to choose a college with a business school, then begin your education in the business school. It’s easier for a sophomore or junior to pull out than it is to get in. Keep in mind that some majors within an undergraduate business program might become “capped.” The demand for the major might be greater than the number of classes that can be offered. Colleges call these “limited enrollment” or “impacted” majors but they may be known by other names. Students who are neither prepared or confident that they can compete for a seat in such majors might want to consider business schools that offer more flexibility.

Hope to seek a good-paying internship? Then seek a school with a strong alumni base in a city where your student hopes to work and possibly reside after graduation. Some colleges such as Cornell, Indiana, Penn State or Purdue are quite isolated but there are alumni working all over the world. The upside? Students may have fantastic summer internship experiences. Downside? They cannot work in these internships during the school year nor can they always leave campus for interviews. Other schools such as Butler, NYU and Rutgers-New Brunswick are located in or near large cities. It’s often possible to build the resume during the school year as well as the summer. Another option is co-op, where students alternate between school and work for two or three years of their college degree. The best buys among schools that are well-invested in co-op? They are Cincinnati, Georgia Tech and Purdue.

Do you need a business education within a business school? Not always, but it helps when a college offers additional support for business students. A mid size or large school that has a separate undergraduate business school will usually have career services and internship assistance specifically for business students. The business programs will manage their own project-based classes, either case problems or actual work with clients. The business school will also engage students through the alumni base. Some, like Indiana, also offer a business minor for liberal arts students.

Do you need a business major to have a business career? If you want to be an accountant, yes. The coursework required to sit for the CPA exam is more stringent than it is for any other business discipline. If you want to work in management information systems, it helps to know the programming languages used in modern businesses and consulting firms as well as the business core courses. If you want to be in a profession such as quantitative finance that uses an industry-specific software package, it helps to get training and practice in that package while in college.

Liberal arts majors can succeed in business, if they acquire the right skills to complement their major. An economics major with strong skills in math and statistics can find work in finance as easily as a finance major. A communications or psychology major with similar mathematical skills can work successfully in marketing or advertising. For most college students a liberal arts major combined with core courses in accounting, economics and statistics will be fine.

The key is to try different occupations while in college through part-time work, community service or internships to find the best fit. While academic achievements are certainly a plus, businesses seek ambitious and motivated people who try to learn their world outside of the classroom.

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How Risk-Based Student Loans Could Conceptually Work

With the election of a Republican president as well as Republican majorities in Congress and among state governors much discussion has been raised about considering risk in student loans. While this is an unpopular concept among educational leaders, it is one that more conservative politicians and opinion leaders will give more study—and it does have potentially serious impacts on student borrowing.

Ideally, fiscally conservative politicians would want college students and their families to borrow as little as possible, especially if their degrees do not lead to specific career paths. They could lead student borrowers in that direction by limiting the principle, denying or eliminating the interest subsidy or offering disincentives (higher interest rates) to discourage them to take on more debt.  They could also set income limits, which was done in the early 1980s when I was in college, or change credit terms based on a family’s financial situation.

Risk-based student loan programs could also consider the default rate of the student’s chosen college. It is conceivable that a fiscally conservative Congress combined with a fiscally conservative President could allow borrowers who attend colleges with high default rates to borrow less, or ask the college to assume some of the risk. That could seriously compromise the quality of services, the financial health and the future student markets for such schools.

My audience and my concerns, however, are with parents and students. While a family’s financial situation would remain an important consideration in student loan lending decisions, there are student-centered aspects as well, including.

  • The student’s ability to earn academic awards that would reduce the costs of their education. Lenders would consider a college’s total cost of attendance: tuition and fees, room and board, books and a living/transportation allowance, then consider what the student has done through their academic performance to reduce those costs at the start of the school year. No lender should allow a student to borrow more than s/he needs to meet their total costs of attendance. However, it is conceivable that a lender might offer a lower interest rate to a very good to excellent student vs. a poor to middling one.
  • The student’s ability to work while pursing their degree. A lender might be willing to extend more favorable terms to students who are working to help pay for their education, whether it be to cover expenses or build their resumes towards a goal after graduation. A fiscally conservative lender could conceivably view a student who earns, saves or has a clear direction to be less of a risk than a student who does not.
  • The student’s year in college. For a risk-based lending program to be fair, it would probably offer the same terms to first and second-year students, regardless of their major. Intended major cannot be a lending consideration for most first-year students. Most have not taken a full semester of college-level classes nor are they in the position to commit to a major. However, a junior or senior would be a lesser risk because s/he has made a stronger commitment towards completing a degree.
  • The student’s chosen major. This is the area where politicians have sounded off the most, the idea that a college student who is enrolled in a high-demand, pre-professional major is less of a risk than one who is not. A lender would rely on labor market and salary data to determine risk and credit terms. In theory, a student who is enrolled in a major that leads to immediate employment should be able to begin repaying their loans faster than another student who is not.

Can any of these considerations impact a college list or a college choice for future students?

Of course, they can.

More students would gravitate towards less expensive educational options, especially if they plan to go on for further education or want to opt for a degree program that has few or no defined career paths. Others might be swayed towards schools based on their reputation as target schools that have better connections to internships and jobs with larger employers. Or they might be steered towards schools where they hear that it is “easier” to complete a degree in a major that is more likely to lead to full-time employment after college.

Fiscal conservatives would certainly hope that more students would become motivated to work, save and build upon a post-college direction as well as find full-time jobs after graduation. That is possible but not likely unless high schools  and colleges can become more invested in helping students to make these choices. If a risk-based policy is combined with further cuts in state and local spending for counseling and career development at public schools and colleges, higher levels of student success are less likely to happen.

A greater concern is that students who find an “immediately employable” major to be too difficult will simply give up on the opportunity to earn a college degree. Those students will have borrowed and spent time in college for nothing. They and their lender will have the most at risk.

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Admitted Early Action? Congratulations But Choose Wisely!

As the holiday season approaches college-bound seniors find good news in their mailbox, online or on paper. Early Action acceptances have arrived. Unlike Early Decision admissions, which require a binding commitment to a first-choice school, seniors admitted Early Action can take their time to review their college options, all the way to the May 1st deposit deadline.

Early Action acceptances are a good measures of a college-bound senior’s standing in the admissions process. They are also a reward, not only for academic and extracurricular achievement, but also for the student’s enthusiasm, thoroughness and efficiency. Admitted students should take advantage of the available time to confirm that a school is their true first choice. Have a choice between two or more schools? Compare and confirm. Are these schools lower down the list? Keep them in mind. Research them thoroughly while waiting for other decisions to come in.

Some tips to help compare and confirm college choices:

  • Admitted students are invited to Accepted Students events. Attend as many as possible, especially if they are within a reasonable driving time from home. Attendance may also lead to further rewards, including larger scholarships.
  • Check any notes from the last campus visit, photos, too. They are useful reminders of likes and dislikes.
  • Check the costs listed in the admissions materials. Review award letters. The next year’s costs, and those in later years, should be within your means.
  • Receive a scholarship? Check the requirements to maintain the award after freshman year.
  • Decided on a major? Compare copies of the “degree maps,” the year-by-year requirements to earn the degree in the intended major. Is one degree program more difficult to complete?
  • Undecided? Compare the requirements to earn a degree from each school as well as the access into possible majors. Some schools will take all students who are interested into major departments; others cap enrollments in majors that are in high demand.
  • Directed towards employment after college? Go to the career services Web site or contact their staff to get reports about internships and jobs.
  • Contact students or recent graduates from your hometown along with tour guides who gave out business cards. Get their viewpoints.

What about denials, with no acceptances in hand by Christmas Eve? Don’t despair. Other decisions come in after New Year’s Day. Prepare to send mid-year grades to  schools that have not made their decision. Apply to schools that practice “rolling admissions.” An acceptance could come within four to six weeks after the completed application is in.

Early Action admissions allow families more time to make a better-informed decision. Take advantage of that time. Use it wisely to reflect and research college options.

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Which College is the ‘Harvard of the South?’

The strongest college brand names in the US are probably Harvard and Notre Dame.

I have never heard of a college being labeled “the Notre Dame of the South.”

But I have heard of colleges that have been called “the Harvard of the South.” I’m not crazy about this label. Founded in 1636, Harvard is the oldest university in the US. It is older than all of the states in the country. Its founding predates Emory University (GA), the next oldest proclaimed Harvard of the South by 200 years.

For a college to be the Harvard of anyplace, it does not necessarily need to be as selective in admissions as Harvard. But it should be quite difficult to get into the school. The college should also be similar to Harvard in these ways:

  • It should be a national (vs. regional) private university with undergraduate, graduate and professional schools that has appeal across the United States as well as with college-bound students from other countries.
  • It should be a mid-sized (less than 10,000 undergraduates) school. Harvard has 6,700 undergraduates.
  • It should be located in or near a major city, just like Harvard.
  • It should attempt to meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial need, as Harvard does.
  • It should be a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU). These schools are recognized for the research accomplishments of their faculty. All of the member schools also have highly-desired graduate and professional schools. Harvard has been a charter member since 1900.

Of the above, the shortest list is the last. There are 26 private universities that are members of the AAU. Five are located in the South or Southwest: Duke, Emory, Rice, Tulane and Vanderbilt. Tulane does not meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial need—it most recently met, on average, 97 percent. Neither does Emory (averages 95 percent). These are still excellent, and reasonably generous, schools. But we are comparing schools to Harvard, which is setting the standards for this post.

Duke has approximately 6,700 undergraduates. Only 12 percent of the applicants for the Class of 2019 were offered admission. The freshman retention rate (97 percent) for the class than entered in 2015 and the four-year graduation rate for the class that entered in 2009 (86 percent) were about the same as Harvard. The university attempts to meet the full financial need. The major dissimilarity for all students is that Duke, while located in the Research Triangle of North Carolina, is further from a major city than the other “possible Harvards.” But it can still be considered a “Harvard of the South,” especially by Duke students and alumni.

Rice has a much smaller undergraduate population (around 3,900) than Duke. The total student population, undergraduates and graduates, is just over 6,700. Only 16 percent of the applicants for the Class of 2019 were offered admission. Rice’s freshman retention is about the same as Harvard’s (97 percent). The four-year graduation rate is 80 percent. Still excellent. The university attempts to meet the full financial need. Rice is also located within a large city. Rice has a claim to be a “Harvard of the South.” But if you want only one “Harvard of the South,” it has less of a claim than Duke because of the lower graduation rate and the smaller student body.

Vanderbilt has 6,900 undergraduates, only 200 more than Harvard. It’s as hard to get into Vanderbilt as it is to get into Duke. Only 12 percent of the applicants for the Class of 2019 were offered admission. Vanderbilt’s freshman retention rates was the same as Duke’s (97 percent ) The four-year graduation rate as slightly better (87 percent). The university attempts to meet the full financial need. The campus is in Nashville, one of the entertainment capitals of the US and a growing business center. Vanderbilt certainly has a claim to be the “Harvard of the South.”

Vanderbilt’s claim to be the Harvard of the South is the strongest based on my criteria .

What might be a major difference between Vanderbilt admits and Harvard admits? Vanderbilt also pursues athletes who must compete in one of the most competitive sports conferences in the country. The Vanderbilt baseball, football or basketball star has a much better chance of successfully going pro than his counterpart at Harvard.

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A Case For the Political Science Major

I am a self-confessed political junkie and have followed the electoral process for many years.  I totally understand, given the current presidential election cycle that many college-bound students might be apprehensive about careers and an education in government and politics. Today, as we head into the close of the cycle, I felt compelled to write a post to encourage college-bound students to become engaged in public service within “the system” or as an advocate for change from outside it.

I can imagine what some readers might be thinking: an undergraduate Political Science degree cannot lead to an entry-level job after graduation where the graduate will use the major. It is a complete waste of credits and time. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The education gained in any major, including Political Science, no matter how “easy” or “hard” in a cynic’s mind, can be parlayed into a rewarding career, provided a student builds upon a career direction while s/he is still in school. It also helps if the school will not leave a student with a pile of excessive debt to pay for a bachelor’s degree. While entry-level jobs in government and politics are not as difficult to get for those who built a resume in college, they are not as lucrative as those in Accounting, Computer Science or Engineering. The senior-level positions can be, for those who are willing to pay their dues.

Analytical and leadership skills are highly prized in politics. You do not need to become a lawyer to acquire such skills. But they can be acquired in college by becoming involved in campaigns, causes and student organizations on campus. It is useful to understand demographics and statistics. It is more important to learn how to write well and to talk to and listen to people who may neither understand nor agree with your views. Policy ideas are “sold” much like many products or services that you can buy in a store. A legal education is certainly useful for those who want to turn public policy ideas into legislation and for interpreting policies and regulations that are already law. However, there are lobbyists who work the legislative process who have never gone to law school, let alone become lawyers.

The best way to succeed as a Political Science major is to develop complementary skills within as well as outside of the major. My own undergraduate education with a Political Science major, for example, included courses in Accounting, Computer Science, Economics, Geography and Mathematics as well as the more quantitative work in Political Science and Urban Planning. If you envision working in the political process at any level and you have the opportunity to take courses in Journalism Writing, First Amendment Law, Marketing or Statistics courses, you should. These are valued skills for anyone who has to help their boss get elected and to help her sell her ideas if she does.

I knew of others who majored in Political Science who chose elective courses with the intent of presenting an impressive transcript with a very high GPA that would help them to gain admission to law school. However, too many people choose this strategy with little to no idea of what a lawyer actually does. If your interest is to use the Political Science major as a “pre law” track, then consider schools that will help freshmen find “shadowing” experiences in a law office between the fall and spring semester breaks and also aid sophomores in finding internship opportunities in the law. I strongly advise against choosing courses with law school admission as the primary goal unless the student truly knows that s/he wants to be a lawyer.

Many elected, appointed and career public servants have successfully worked in government and politics without the benefit of a law degree. These days the debt can be an albatross around the neck of a young man or woman wants to be more engaged in politics than in the practice of law. I have also heard comments such as “I’ll make my money as a lawyer before running for office.” That can happen if you graduate from law school with good connections and little debt. And how can that happen? A family can treat the costs of a law degree as an obligation much like college and pay all of the costs. The law student can go to law school with the aid of a generous scholarship. Or s/he can work, even in some public service positions, and attend law school at night.

Politics is actually one of the easier professions to gain entry as a college student, provided that you are willing to work for very little money at the start. The entry point is, more often than not, an unpaid internship in service to a governor, legislator or mayor or as a volunteer for a political campaign. However, depending on a college’s connections as well as interests, upper-class Political Science majors can also work in corporate government and community affairs offices, lobbying and polling firms and city manager’s offices. The more complementary skills you have, the better the position will be. The better located your college, whether it be in Washington DC, a state capital or large city, the more likely that you can graduate with a resume that shows more than one internship experience.

You can get college credit for that position during the school year, provided that you go to school in a place that’s in or near work and have a professor who is willing to sponsor the internship. At the same time an intern has to realize that s/he is there to help their boss accomplish their agenda, not to show off their conclusions from a research paper that got an ‘A’ from a demanding professor. Every profession requires its youngest workers to pay their dues. Politics is no exception. But good work is often rewarded with the offer of a new position with a higher salary and more responsibility, no matter where you attend college.