Hopkins Shakes Up Mba Studies

January 11, 1994|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Staff Writer

Steve Hardiman was just the kind of guy the University of Baltimore business school coveted: a young businessman seeking a master of business administration degree.

But Mr. Hardiman lasted just one semester in the university's MBA program.

When he got a new job with a company that agreed to pay his tuition, Mr. Hardiman quickly transferred to the Johns Hopkins University, which is a little more expensive, but has, after all, the Hopkins name.

"If I could have afforded it, I would have been here from the start," said Mr. Hardiman, 32, an office automation consultant with CSX Transportation Inc.

Mr. Hardiman's attitude has become more common over the past few years, as Hopkins, known chiefly for its scientists and doctors, has quietly emerged as the metropolitan area's biggest business school.

It's not accredited, it has almost no full-time faculty, and it even stoops to advertising on buses. But to the dismay of its competitors, students are flocking there.

Hopkins' success, as well as a general leveling off in demand for MBAs, has prompted major changes at Hopkins' competitors here -- Loyola College, the University of Baltimore and, to a lesser extent, Morgan State University.

There are new buildings, new equipment and new courses designed to make the MBA degree more relevant to today's business world, with more emphasis on teamwork, communication and information technology.

In some cases, the schools are cutting their course requirements or prerequisites.

After the glory days of the 1980s, enrollments have peaked and surveys show students are not as intent on entering the business world. At the same time, companies are demanding more from their MBA hires than the ability to crunch numbers.

Shakeout expected

About 750 colleges nationwide offer an MBA program, twice the number of 20 years ago, and some people in the field say that number may begin to drop soon.

"The competition for faculty and students is a lot tougher," said Charles W. Hickman, projects director with the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business, the leading accrediting organization. "This is an industry that has overcapacity. There is a pretty powerful incentive," Mr. Hickman said, "for most schools to try and carve out a niche or a focus that helps them stand out in a crowd."

For financially strapped campuses, business schools have long been considered "cash cows," with relatively low expenses and students who have the money, their own or their employer's, to pay tuition.

Loyola's Joseph A. Sellinger School of Business and Management, where graduate enrollment has dropped to 1,054 this semester from 1,345 in 1990, is expanding, not narrowing its offerings.

The school, which has long been accredited, will add a master of international business and expand nondegree programs. "That's where the future is," said the Rev. Ronald J. Anton, business school dean.

Loyola has leased plush classroom space at a Mount Washington conference center to make its Executive MBA program more attractive to midlevel corporate managers and is renovating space on its main campus for business students.

Fewer prerequisites

Loyola is also making it easier to obtain a degree. Beginning next year, MBA candidates without a business background will be required to take seven prerequisite courses, rather than the current 10. Students will also be able, for the first time, to waive some of the prerequisites if they learned the material on the job.

"If we say you have to take these 10 courses before you can get into the program, that's an awful lot to ask of them," Father Anton said.

At the University of Baltimore, where graduate business enrollment also has fallen in the past three years, officials are hopeful that a $15 million building scheduled to open next year will help reinvigorate the program.

The school also has revised its offerings, placing more emphasis on "soft skills," such as communication, information technology and appreciation for cultural diversity, said Daniel E. Costello, the business school dean.

At the same time, the University of Baltimore, which is accredited, will lower its MBA requirements from 57 credit-hours to 51 next fall, and will allow students to test out of as many as 21 hours' worth of basic courses, such as finance and accounting. Hopkins, by comparison, requires only 48 hours of course work.

Like Loyola, University of Baltimore also hopes to start a master of international business degree by the fall of 1995, with some courses taught by faculty from two other members of the University of Maryland system -- Towson State University and the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

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