How does graduate level business education impact undergraduate education?
I think we are fortunate to have a solid MBA program as a partner, which gives us the opportunity to dovetail on some of the innovation happening across the business school. We’ve made some pretty big strides in leadership development and applied learning. One of the most significant developments at the school is that students who are interested in consulting have the opportunity to work with MBA students on Student Teams Achieving Results (STAR) teams. These are teams of undergraduate and MBA students who work with real companies on real issues. Our clients are Duke Energy, GE, Proctor & Gamble, and oil and gas companies, among others.
These are big-name firms that students get to work with over the course of a semester. They do deliverables and present their work to senior-level administrators or managers of these firms. It is something quite unique where students get to work with MBAs. It is similar to real life, where undergraduates go to work in a spot where a recent MBA is their manager. The STAR program started in 2009, after we ran it as a pilot in 2008. There were a lot of naysayers who thought undergraduates couldn’t keep up with MBAs, but that was an incorrect assumption.
The MBA program really does trickle down, and we partner with them on quite a few things. There are several students clubs that are hybrids between the undergraduate and MBA program, and we work with the MBA program to provide leadership coaches and career coaches to undergraduates. It’s an interesting supply chain model because undergraduates are going into the jobs that MBAs just left, so there is a lot of learning that can happen in that cycle. It is similar to real life, where undergraduates go to work in a spot where a recent MBA is their manager.
Kenan-Flagler’s undergraduate business program is a two-year program, as opposed to the four-year model common at other schools. What are some of the benefits of a shorter program?
I think there are definitely some advantages. We believe in a strong liberal arts base, so I believe the fact that our program requires students to spend a solid one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half years completing a general education curriculum is one of our strengths. It it makes our students much more well-rounded. I also think this provides an additional screen for companies. Our students have to first apply to get into the University of North Carolina, and then there is a second screen they need to go through in order to get into the business school.
I think that process helps students develop a solid foundation, not only from a personal standpoint. They develop a sense of self without having the burden of having to immediately decide upon a major and what they want to do. They have the time to acclimate to the institution and find their groove. I think that is a benefit because it makes them much more well-rounded. I think that is also a challenge because students develop a strong attachment to the main campus, and because of that there is a little bit of a problem as they transition to the business school. It has gotten much better, but it is something we are working to improve.
Sometimes students who are attending a university with a three- or four-year undergraduate business program might have access to some content classes much sooner than our students because they might get take core finance in the second semester of their first year or the first semester of their sophomore year. The earliest a typical student at our school can get access to a core finance or marketing class is in the second semester of their sophomore year. The traditional route would be the first semester of their junior year.
Our program is a traditional two-year program where all students start in the fall semester of their junior year. A couple of years ago, in an attempt to level the playing field with schools that have three- or four-year programs, we did two things. What we did was shift that pipeline forward so students can apply to start business school in the spring of their sophomore year. We made that change because it allows students in the application pool to apply to business school in the summer between their freshman year and second year, depending on when they plan to start business school.
We also created a pipeline for freshmen to come into the business school. It is called the Assured Admission Program, and every year we admit 70 to 75 first-years. It is not direct admissions because students still need to complete the prerequisites of the program, but students can go through the curriculum and get exposure to it much earlier. Those students have access to business classes in the fall semester of their sophomore year. It is assured admission, not guaranteed admission. There are grade point average requirements, and they need to complete prerequisites. However, they can get in as long as they check a couple of boxes. They then seamlessly enter the undergraduate business program as a major or minor. We started this because we wanted to recruit students to Carolina who were looking at other schools with four-year or three-year programs, and try to better compete for those students.
What advice do you have for both parents and would-be students in choosing a quality undergraduate business program?
I know this sounds so cliché and is probably over communicated, but the rankings are a good place to start. Then the students really need to think about fit, and whether or not they’re a good fit for the school and if the school is a good fit for them. I think we need to use how we coach MBAs to choose MBA programs and shift that up the pipeline a bit to undergraduates.
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