Dean’s Q&A: Idalene Kesner of Indiana University

The favorite: Indiana University's Kelley School of Business

The favorite: Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business

What are you seeing at your school in terms of application numbers and general interest in an undergraduate business degree?

We have a direct admit program with 1270 students. There is some minor drop-off by the time school starts. That’s the highest admission of direct admit students in our history, and we’ve set records every year to be honest. So the numbers continue to go up pretty dramatically. We also have standard admits where students apply to the program after they begin studying at Indiana University, and for a lot of students you have to be top-notch to get in. The average GPA for students who get into the direct admit program is over 3.9 on a four-point scale, so you have to be a top student.  The average SAT this year was 1375. We’ve gotten a 15 percent increase in students this year with SATs over 1400 on just those two dimensions of the SAT, so the quality of the students are outstanding. The fact that we aren’t large hasn’t diminished the quality of our application pool nor the quality of enrolled students.

For the direct admits, the coursework begins in freshman year and it includes personalized communication courses and a unique course called “How Business Works” That’s a class for students directly admitted into the program and is a team-taught course. It looks at functional areas of business in a case setting, and there are projects within the courses that are specialized. Even the career services courses begin in freshman year. So students are well prepared, which is not surprising when you think about all the attention they spend beginning as early as freshman year

We are a strong rankings school. We are number ten or number eight, depending on the rankings you look at, and parents take notice of that. I think students and parents also take notice of the fact that for the second year in a row we are number one in Bloomberg Businessweek’s corporate recruiter ranking. That to me is more important than the ranking because it means recruiters are telling us we are a number one institution.

Have you made any significant changes to the undergraduate curriculum in the last few years? 

We implemented a new feature of our curriculum more than two years ago that we are now in the third year of implementing. We began that with greater attention to career services in the beginning of freshman year, rather than waiting until sophomore or junior year. This is so students know who they are and they know their skills and abilities and the career paths most suitable for them.

The second year is all about interaction, and we expose students to international business very early on in their sophomore year. It often times includes trips to international locations so students can begin getting exposed to global travel and study of business as early as their sophomore year. This then encourages them to continue this international emphasis their junior and senior years, whether it is an exchange program or trip embedded in the program.

The third element of it was the tweaking of our integrated core. We tweaked it just a little bit to make sure we had an adequate level of leadership and organizational behavior aspect integrated into it. That’s another element we changed. There was no wholesale change to the curriculum, but it is more or less the implementation of the program we developed three years ago.

I understand that Kelley will soon have a new building for its students. How will that impact students’ experience on campus? 

The brand new building is going up right outside my window. Students visiting campus see it going up and understand that this state-of-the-art facility has very unique built-in opportunities within the building. We have a lab for students who want to study and get into areas of sales. There is a trading room for students who are interested in banking and investment management. We have a retail store for students who want to get into that side of things. We have a lot of unique spaces in this new building that I think students recognize can be integrated into their learning experience here.

Does a degree in undergraduate business really pay off? What do you think is the value proposition for students?

Without negating the value of other kinds of undergraduate degrees, I do think students who enter the right kind of undergraduate business program can really have a wonderful experience and be well prepared for their jobs. I say this because our program, as an illustration, allows students to take credit hours at the university more broadly, so not all their credit hours have to be present in business school. We give them the opportunity to get a more well-rounded education and that might be important to them when they enter the undergraduate program. Having said that, by focusing on their business career and the professional aspects at an early stage, they are better prepared for jobs. That allows them to advance more quickly in organizations. We’ve gone out and interviewed recruiters and they tell us that our students advance more rapidly through training programs than any other of the students. I think that’s because of our four-year undergraduate program and the education we provide. I think it’s amazing that we can take students at an early stage and give them some opportunity to study broadly at the university level and concentrate their studies so they are ready to go on day one.

We also get a chance to create specialized groups of students that we train for unique career paths. We have workshops for students who are selected by faculty members to participate in career path development groups. We have one on investment banking, another one in investment management and one on consulting and investment banking. We’ve placed more than 90 students in internships on Wall Street, and perhaps another 70 in full-time jobs on Wall Street. Those are very good illustrations of how you can develop students at an early stage so they are well positioned to take key jobs when they graduate. On the consulting side, we have the best consulting firms here taking our undergraduate students. Because they’ve had this advanced preparation, they are ready to hit the ground running when they hit the firms.

We have well over 200 employers who come here and recruit. Over 300 recruiters if you count the undergraduate and graduate coming to campus. So we have a massive group of recruiters coming to campus to interview students and picking the best of the best for internships and full-time jobs. They want to come here because we are so large and have such quality students.

How deeply involved are parents in both the application process and the actual education of the students?

Parents are involved today, no doubt about it. They are not only involved when the students apply to college, but they are involved while they are going through the program. In some respects that is very good because parents are keenly aware that they are helping students and giving them advice about career paths that make the most sense for them. They know the students well and probably can give them good advice. I’d say at the same time it is very important that parents give students time to develop on their own in college. If parents are too influential in the process, that can be problematic. Parents are very involved today, but it is important for them to learn not to be overly involved, and to give the students space so they can develop on their own.

Does the MBA program trickle down to the undergraduate business program? 

In our school, we have a full range of programs including an MBA program and a Master of Science program. In order to cover all the programs we have a very large faculty. Each and every year we make sure we have faculty who are experts across a wide variety of areas, and for that reason undergraduates benefit directly because they get specialized courses.

Our strong rankings in our undergraduate program are mirrored in the MBA program.  What we try to do is have that quality reflected in one program and take advantage of it in the other. Unlike some other schools we don’t have a specialized group of faculty who teach in only program, like the University of Virginia, which has the Darden School and the McIntire School. Our faculty teach across all programs and I think that is beneficial for students because faculty are accustomed to teaching advanced students and they bring that rigor back to the classroom, and expect that rigor as well.

What advice do you have for both parents and would-be students in choosing a quality undergraduate business program?

I would encourage parents to look very carefully at the full range of preparation students get and at things like job placement statistics. They want to know at the end of the day that the graduating students will get a great job, and even before that that they will get a great internship. They want to know that the school is preparing students for great positions. If I were the parent, those would be the kind of things I’d be looking at.

I’d also look at the rankings in terms of the quality of the faculty because you want to know that students are getting a high-quality experience, that the faculty is well-trained and that the school takes that seriously.

Some schools – it’s not true of our school – place a higher value on research alone and don’t care as much what the classroom experience is like.

Our school values high-quality research and high-quality teaching, and we expect our faculty to deliver on those elements. We want to make sure the attention to quality teaching is there, and we want to make sure that our educational philosophy is appropriate for students. If you’re a parent, our educational philosophy is very much about coaching and mentoring. We spend a lot of time coaching and mentoring students through the undergraduate experience. There is a lot of hands-on activity by the career services staff and by our faculty. We want to make sure that whatever philosophy the school practices is consistent with the best approach for your son or daughter.


Lori Rosenkopf of Wharton

Carl Zeithaml Of University of Virginia

Dale Nees of Notre Dame University

Edward McLaughlin Of Cornell

Steven Malter of Washington University

Lawrence Murray of the University of North Carolina  David Platt of University of Texas

Andrea Hershatter of Emory

Lynn Wooten of Michigan

Idalene Kesner of Indiana University

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