After Revamping, A Resurgence In Vermont

Students at the Grossman School of Business on the campus of the University of Vermont

What have been some of the advantages of launching a completely new niche Sustainable Entrepreneurship MBA program for the school? 

We couldn’t build a national reputation with an evening part-time program and it wasn’t financially viable.  So we adopted the same process that we did with the undergraduate program, and created an ad hoc committee with faculty to determine what our MBA program should be. We wanted a niche that we could own, so we came up with sustainable entrepreneurship and I think we own it. We are creeping up in the rankings, so I think we’ve made the right decision. The program is really outstanding because we don’t have any traditional courses. We have 16-week courses, all modules with credits of varying lengths. Every module is co-taught by faculty and business executives, and all of our cases are written with our partner companies. We have an entrepreneur-in-residence every other week, either a senior executive or the vice president of a company or a CEO. I think it is just an outstanding program. We have 23 students, and we are keeping the quality very high. We get between 70 to 80 applications and we are accepting a smaller number because we want a high GMAT and at least three years of work experience. The average age is around 31. Our goal is to have 50 students by 2018, so we hope to have around 40 students this year and 50 the year after that. It’s a niche program, so it’s not going to be much bigger than 50. We might start another niche MBA program, we’re starting to think about that next.

How do students gain practical experience in sustainable entrepreneurship during their time in the MBA program?

We have a list of 50 partners, a group of global companies around the world and students work with them to build venture proposals, create new businesses for them and address new sustainability challenges.  We also have very strong relationships with companies that define the Vermont brand like Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation, Burton Snowboards and Gardener’s Supply. Our students do a three-month practicum with companies, where they work on ideas such as how to build a new venture plant or address sustainability changes like clean water, clean air and sustainable supply chains. They work with these companies not locally, but globally. They work three months with them on the practicum, and if they do a great job and the project has prospered, these companies will often employ them to implement the venture. That works well for us because the MBA program is just 12 months and ends in August. The hiring for MBA jobs is in the spring, and when you graduate in August, no one is hiring. In our program, since you’ve just done this practicum with the company and built them a new venture proposal, the company may feel they want it to be implemented and will hire them.

What are some of your goals for the next five years for the school?

We don’t want to grow the undergraduate program, which I think is the right size for the facility. We need to start an expansion of the business school building to accommodate growth. But we want to add a graduate program, so the next step in my mind is going to an online program, but it won’t be a traditional online program. We’re trying to think of what will be the next generation graduate program or MBA program that can leverage technology to make the experience extremely rich for students.

What advice would you give to parents and prospective college students looking at business schools?

I think ideally you want to look for a favorable student-to-faculty ratio. We have small classes and very close interaction with faculty. In some of the big state schools, you have ten times the number of students in class that we have. I think that level of interaction is great, and students give that feedback again and again. They say they have a rich experience because of the small class sizes, the faculty ratio and the faculty always being available to help whenever they need them. It’s also important to look for a safe campus, and we are very focused on being a safe campus in every way. The city of Burlington is practically crime free and is a great place to live. I think it’s also important for parents to look at the outcomes they want their students to get. It is very difficult for parents to judge the quality of a program, but they can judge the outcome in terms of the jobs the students get. What happens after four years, the percentage of students that get jobs, and what is the quality of those jobs. That’s why they send them to business school. They could do a degree in philosophy but the reason they go to business school is they want a job.


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