After Revamping, A Resurgence In Vermont

University of Vermont Grossman School of Business

What were some of the biggest curriculum changes that were implemented?

The undergraduate program used to have 13 concentrations. We are not a huge school. When I came there were only about 700 undergraduate students and we’re now over 1,000, so we have grown. We could not afford to offer 13 concentrations in great depth because we are not huge in terms of faculty and not huge in terms of students. We didn’t have enough critical mass of students in each concentration, and secondly some of those concentrations didn’t make sense in our current market. The employers didn’t know what to do with some of the concentrations. So we got rid of the 13 concentrations and the final proposal is a curriculum where we have only four concentrations: finance, accounting, marketing and business analytics. Within those four areas, we created three themes that run throughout the concentrations: global business, sustainable business and entrepreneurial thinking.  Every student gets exposure to these concepts in their concentrations. Additionally there was experiential learning, which we didn’t have in the school before I came. We added an internship for credit and now 95% of students do at least two internships after their sophomore and junior years. We have a case competition now, whereas before our students never competed in these. Students will often compete in 10 to 12 case competitions in a year and they do well.

We also created a crowd-funding platform and have links with business accelerators and business incubators and we are trying to encourage startups. Our business school is now a hub of entrepreneurial activity. Faculty members come with ideas to students and the students will take these on.

In addition, we do speed networking panels now in different areas where alumni come in and do mock interviews. All of these have added to the experiential learning outcome.

How did you help improve career outcomes so dramatically for students at the school? 

Previously there was no career function or office at the business school. There was nothing in regard to placement and students did not have any help in jobs, placement, career preparation or development. They graduated and went out on their own.

My first order of business was to raise funds to hire a career professional and create a career development employer relations function. There was a career services office at the university, but there were only three people for 10,000 undergraduates, so we created our own for the business school. It’s very small, with only two people. It’s not nearly enough but I continue to raise money to try and add a couple more positions for the office.

As a result of this and our experiential learning program, in the last couple of years we’ve had more than 95% of students in jobs or within graduate school within six months of graduation. We’ve increased the quality of employers and the quality of jobs. You have to realize that’s really hard in Vermont, as we don’t have many local companies or that much business. We had to create a national employment base, mainly in the Northeast in places like Boston and New York. We opened up new employers like Google and Facebook and Boeing out West, as well.

We also added something called the Professional Development series, which is a four-year career plan we map out for each student when they come to us freshman year. It outlines what the expectations are for career prep, networking, doing case competitions, campus engagement and internships. The series is a three-credit course students take over three years, and they get one credit each year for it. We bring in our alumni every week to talk to all the students in that year about how to prepare for their career, how to conduct outreach, how to interview, what are things to avoid during interviews and dress codes. That professional development series prepares them for their career and also mandates them to attend campus career events. For example, we have speakers, panels and networking events every week, and students are required to attend 60% of the events. We want to encourage them to get into the habit of doing it, becoming a professional and dressing like a professional.

How did you get companies to take your students more seriously?

It’s a two-way process. It starts with the engagement of the alumni. When I first came here, the alumni and business school community were not engaged. We now have about 250 alumni who come to campus every year. They participate as judges, in speed networking events, on career panels and interact with students. Once they are engaged and they see the impact, they tend to give back.

Our fundraising has been particularly strong. Our school has been successful in raising money because alumni are giving back because they’re engaged and see their impact on students. They’re also giving back in terms of preparing students for careers, giving them internships and giving them jobs. We located alumni in companies and asked them to help with ways for students to get into the companies. It was all through alumni that we were able to create jobs, but we had to make the effort. Nobody had made that effort before.

What is the caliber now of the students you’re attracting to the business school?

The academic quality of our students is up. Their SATs are up, not dramatically but they are creeping up every year by five or ten points. Our selectivity has improved by 20% in the last five years, which is very dramatic, especially when you consider the University of Vermont’s selectivity has gone up 5% during the same time period. Our yield was 8% when I arrived, and has gone up to 13%. Students now have more and more reasons to come here, so even if they are accepted at Northeastern or Bentley, they may come here because of other factors.

It may be surprising, but 85% of our students are from out of state. Vermont only has 626,000 or so people and an aging population. The number of students graduating from high school is declining, so we are in competition for the best students with the best schools in the country. The top Vermont students get great packages from top schools, but the yield of University of Vermont students has been increasing because the business school now has a stronger reputation at the university.

What primarily attracts students to the University of Vermont, and what does the area have to offer them?

Traditionally, what attracts students is the chance to be a skier or a snowboarder. We do attract a lot of students from Colorado, especially the students who typically like to ski. The University of Colorado Boulder-Leeds School of Business is one of our big competitors, and someone from Mass., Pa. or N.Y., could very well look at Leeds or the University of Vermont. We’re finding over the years as we’re building our reputation is that more and more students prefer the University of Vermont.

Burlington is a great city, and in many rankings is considered one of the top college towns. It is small enough, but it is big enough that it doesn’t feel isolated. The campus is located on a hill overlooking Lake Champlain, and there are lots of outdoor activities, great skiing and great restaurants. There’s an airport that has great connections to many cities. The campus was established in 1791, so it has an old charm and the buildings are very classic looking. The president is very particular that any new construction on campus must conform to our 200-year-old look.

Why did you believe it was time for the school to completely revamp the school’s existing MBA program?

Our Sustainable Entrepreneurship MBA program is in its third year and is ranked quite highly. It replaces the old evening part-time MBA program, which was started in the 1970s for a market of middle managers that did not have a management degree in Vermont. At the time, the largest employer in Vermont was IBM. They had a semiconductor plant and fabrication plant, and back then they had 11,000 engineers there at one time. Over the years, what has happened is the state has not given the same incentives to IBM that the state of New York gave to IBM. As a result, IBM started another plant in Fishkill, N.Y., and cut down the number of engineers to 200 from 11,000. They sold last year to GlobalFoundries, so now the base of middle managers has shrunk from 40 or 50 a year to maybe six or seven a year. As a result, our part-time program was not viable at all.

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