BUSINESS In Search of the B-School Badge

Our survey of the eight area M.B.A. programs reveals that excellence is a matter of degree.

I f you’re thinking about getting an M.B. A., you’ve got company: countless others want to increase their earning power, expand their menu of job opportunities, improve the way they do business, or put off entering the job market for another couple of years. As a group, they are growing in numbers both locally and nationally. In 1960, about 6,000 M.B.A.s were graduated; last year an estimated 74,000 new M.B.A.s were minted-1,300 from Dallas-area business schools. And the numbers are still increasing. Applications this year either increased or stayed stable at most area business schools and at Harvard, Michigan, Columbia, and NYU.

An M.B.A. is no longer a rarity, especially in Dallas. (Houston can claim only around one hundred annual home-grown M.B.A. grads.) So, if you are worried about standing out among the multitudes, you had better look long and hard at where you get your M.B.A.

How do you pick the “right” school? After examining each of the eight (yes, eight) M.B.A. programs in this area, my best advice to aspiring students is-leave town.

If money is not a consideration, if you are not tied to Dallas by job, marriage, or probation officer, if you can get into Harvard, Stanford, Chicago, Kellogg, or Wharton- go. By all means, go. Local firms do look to Dallas when hiring M.B.A.s, but if you really want to grab attention and a higher salary, remember that corporate Dallas is still fascinated with M.B.A.S from Back East, the West Coast, Up North. Local employers love to show off their Harvard M.B.A.s. The Dallas-based Trammell Crow Company is just one of many firms that makes the annual trek to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to check out the freshest crop of the “best and brightest.” With the possible exception of Southern Methodist University, none of the M.B.A. programs in Dallas is known outside of this region. And SMU’s national name recognition is derived mainly from its athletic, not its academic, reputation. (Oddly enough, there is some elusive connection between a winning football team and a reputation for superior academics. The theory holds that winning teams are the glue that binds together the alumni of a school who then go out to brag on their alma mater, donate bucks to their alma mater, and hire the graduates of their alma mater.)

A recent survey by Brecker & Merryman, Inc., a New York management consulting firm, posed the burning question “Whose M.B.A. grads do you prefer?” to 250 of the largest national employers. Only one Texas school found itself in the top twenty-one: The University of Texas at Austin, ranked nineteenth. Said Chairman Richard L. Brecker when asked by telephone if any Dallas M.B.A. programs were mentioned among those surveyed: “Well, UT.” Was that UT Arlington or UT Dallas? “Oh. Where is UT?” asked Brecker. (Sound of pages rustling.) “I guess I meant UT Austin. Are there any M.B.A. schools in Dallas?”

So, the Dallas M.B.A. schools have a little identity problem. That is not to say you can’t get a good M.B.A. in Dallas. You can. And I hope to. But if you want to take your M.B.A. on the road or stand out among the masses.. .well, just don’t expect anyone outside of the immediate area (or many people in this area) to know the difference between M.B.A.s earned at UD, UTD, or UTA.

Still, don’t despair if you must stay in Dallas to get your M.B.A. Most of the Dallas M.B.A. class of ’86, at least those who were tracked through career planning offices, found jobs in Dallas. That’s in a year when the three industries that have historically hired the largest numbers of Dallas’s M.B.A.s-oil and gas, banking, and real estate-haven’t been stacking up profits. Most of the big M.B.A. employers haven’t canceled on-campus interviews altogether but have cut down on the number of interviews and the number of job offers.

Despite the large number of home-grown M.B.A.s who are staying in this marketplace and M.B.A.s moving in from other areas, Dallas employers and business school deans say there is no local M.B.A. “glut,” despite seasonal warnings in The Wall Street Journal. But they admit that with a slower economy in Dallas and an increasing number of degreed workers in the marketplace, M.B.A., B.B.A., or liberal arts degree in hand, it’s going to be tougher to find a job here during the next five years.



The Master’s of Business Administration degree (deans, associate deans, etc., start here) may be earned in the Dallas area at Amber University, East Texas State University, North Texas State University, Southern Methodist University, Texas Christian University, the University of Dallas, the University of Texas at Arlington, and the University of Texas at Dallas (alphabetical order; no ranking implied). Of those institutions, five are accredited by the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), and three, Amber University, the University of Dallas, and the University of Texas at Dallas, are not. So, should prospective M.B.A.s scratch the unaccredited trio from the list? Sorry, it’s not going to be that simple.

The accreditation issue is complicated. You can’t assume that just because a school has the AACSB stamp of approval that it is either a top school or the school for you. Naturally, you would assume that Harvard Business School is AACSB accredited; some of the academics I spoke with assume it is. But the assistant director of admissions at Harvard, the guy who writes the Harvard B-school catalog, said he didn’t know whether Harvard was AACSB accredited or not. Nor did anyone else in his office know. Nor did they care. In fact, only a minority of the nation’s MBA programs-222 out of 650- bear the AACSB imprimatur.

Dallas-area business school academia frowned all summer about a Texas Business article (“Hey, big earner,” June 1986) that charted ’Texas’s leading business schools at a glance” simply by listing the M.B.A. programs in the state that were accredited by the AACSB. The unaccredited schools were especially peeved. Said UTD’s dean of the School of Management, Martin S. Geisel, “The accredited schools use their accreditation against the unaccredited schools as a marketing tool to attract students, to indicate some degree of national acceptance or reputation.” Charlene Keller, Ph.D., executive director of enrollment management at UD’s Graduate School of Management, read the article and said she was “getting more uncomfortable” with AACSB accreditation being used as a “white-black symbol of quality” by the press.

The American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business, headquartered in St. Louis, is the sole agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to keep tabs on higher education in business. Member institutions are quick to promote the idea that they are top-notch just by virtue of their accreditation-although you won’t catch many universities touting that alone as criteria for greatness.

Accreditation does guarantee a potential student of certain constants at a member institution: the AACSB requires a certain standard of facilities and resources, mandates a diversity of programs, and makes very specific faculty requirements. The AACSB policies specify that at least 80 percent of the full-time faculty have degrees such as a Ph.D.,D.B.A., J.D.,or L.L.B.

The unaccredited schools in this area, UTD in particular, have less of a problem meeting the faculty degree requirements than the requirements about percentage of full-time faculty. Since UTD, UD, and Amber are primarily commuter schools with working professionals making up the majority of the student body, they offer many evening and weekend courses. That type of curriculum, says UD’s Keller, is better served with part-time, adjunct faculty. Of course, it’s also much cheaper to serve a part-time student body with a part-time faculty. Adjunct professors make far less money than tenured professors.

UTD, which has mainly full-time, tenured professors at the graduate level, has a more specific problem with AACSB accreditation. Its graduate school, said Geisel, would have no problem whatsoever getting accredited. But about five years ago, the AACSB changed its rules, requiring schools to accredit their undergraduate and graduate programs simultaneously. Under the old rules, UTD’s graduate business school could have gotten the stamp. But having developed as a graduate school and teaching only junior- and senior-level undergraduates, Geisel said UTD would need big bucks to hire the full-time faculty required to accredit its undergraduate business program. “You and I are never going to see that much money,” he said. That seems certain, especially with Texas’s state schools suffering along with the state budget.

AACSB accreditation has been prized partly because some employers structured tuition reimbursement programs to pay only for AACSB-accredited M.B.A.s. And that still happens, occasionally. Still, Texas Instruments was paying for 246 M.B.A.s at UD in the spring 1985 semester. And the list goes on: General Dynamics, fifty-one; Frito Lay, forty-one; E Systems, thirty-eight; LTV Aerospace & Defense, thirty-eight.

“I was with a large accounting firm for years,” says UTD School of Management Assistant Dean Richard L. Bomblatus, “where we recruited some 2,500 to 3,000 people from school each year. And I don’t think we even knew whether the schools were AACSB accredited or not. What we were interested in was the student’s grade point average, the tests they took when they entered school [usually the GMAT, the Graduate Management Admission Test], and the number of hours they had in the field we were interested in. [Accreditation] is not an issue with employers.”

Quips one area dean, “The real purpose of accreditation is to assist business school deans in extracting resources from the central administration of the university.” The deans are going to the guys who write the checks and saying, “If you want to be accredited, you have to give me more of this and more of that.”



So, it’s money that makes the world go ’round? Then all a prospective M.B.A. student need do is look at the salary surveys of graduating M.B.A.s and pick the school with the highest numbers? Wrong again. The Wall Street Journal may tell you that employers are paying starting salaries of $35,000 to $40,000 to graduates of the “best” business schools. Harvard may claim that the average starting salary for its M.B.A. grads is $44,500; Wharton, $42,000. Don’t count on that around here.

Salaries are generally lower in Dallas than in the East, and with the large number of M.B.A.s in this marketplace, employers don’t have to pay a premium for them. And the averages, modes, means, and medians really don’t tell that much. Salary offers to M.B.A.s vary with the individual, depending on work experience, grade point average, the state of the economy, and how much the candidate smiles in the job interview. And each school doubts every other school’s numbers anyway. Says one area dean, “You can make those numbers be anything you want them to.”

Forget the ratings and rankings of M.B.A. programs, too. The best way to pick a business program in this area is to spend hours and hours looking at their disparate strengths and weaknesses. Depending on your goals, your educational background-technical or non-technical-and factors like commuting time and money, the “right” choice could vary from Amber to SMU.



AMBER UNIVERSITY

Amber has several obvious weaknesses. Being a relatively new institution-it was started in 1971 as an extension of Abilene Christian College but is now autonomous- Amber hasn’t much of a reputation, good or bad, in the Dallas area. Its M.B.A. program suffers in that respect more than the university as a whole. It is not plugged in to the Dallas business community as well as other area colleges offering M.B.A. programs. Its degree program is not as extensive as others in the area, offering three choices: M.B.A.-General Business, M.B.A.-Management, and M.B.A.-Marketing Management. Its faculty is also inferior to that of other area schools; most of the teachers are from the Southwest and can’t offer the broad national perspective found in other local programs. The admissions standards are somewhat lower than other area schools, making the school less competitive academically.

Amber has its advantages, though: it is a small institution offering intensive individual attention. One unique aspect of Amber: it’s a “non-denominational institution committed to Christian values” and seeks to instill those values in its M.B.A. students by requiring courses such as “Ethics for Decision Making.” Located just northeast of LBJ Freeway and south of Northwest Highway in Garland, Amber is easily accessible.

Despite some positives, Amber, with tuition at $100 a semester hour, ranks near the bottom of this list.

EAST TEXAS STATE UNIVERSITY

Although ETSU is in Commerce, it offers a number of classes in the Dallas area. Still, eliminate this one from your list. ETSU is the smallest M.B.A. program in the area-in May, it graduated sixteen students-and with the state budget being slashed it is in danger of being eliminated altogether. The average GMAT score of its students is 468-almost one hundred points below the average of any other area school. The three other state of Texas system schools in the area (NTSU, UTA, UTD) beat ETSU on virtually all criteria: faculty, students, curriculum, reputation, alumni, placement programs, facilities, and location. And they all cost the same-$16 an hour, plus various fees.



NORTH TEXAS STATE UNIVERSITY

NTSU in Demon has one of the oldest M.B.A. programs in the area, dating back to the mid-Forties. For that reason, the school is historically connected with business communities in Fort Worth and Dallas. NTSU has especially strong connections with high-tech companies like Texas Instruments and Rockwell International that have donated generously to the university’s computer facilities. Among NTSU’s strengths is its faculty, which offers a good balance between academia and the “real world” of business. Many of its Ph.D.s have practical business experience. Its students are older, and many are working professionals going to school part time. Its curricular strengths have been in computer applications, accounting, and financial areas. It’s no surprise that more than a few of the Dallas top 100 companies have NTSU M.B.A. grads as chief financial officers or treasurers.

But NTSU alumni haven’t bound together. They’re out there, they’re doing well, but for the most part, they’re not touting their NTSU heritage. That means they may not be hiring other alumni, and they’re not out there on an NTSU soapbox boosting the school’s reputation. Without a strong connection to the university, alumni aren’t likely to bless that institution with donations. That’s something Jay A. Smith, the business school’s relatively new dean (he’s been there for twenty months), is trying to change through a series of business seminars for the school’s alumni. Attendance is growing.

Over the last three years, NTSU’s M.B.A. enrollment has fallen from around 1,000 to 800. Dean Smith thinks that may be partially a result of some other programs-like UTD-coming into the market and making that drive to Denton avoidable. NTSU has done well with its M.B.A.s in the past, but Smith has a challenge ahead to keep up with comers like UTD.



SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY

SMU, hands down, has the best connections with the business community-the real estate community in particular-of any university in town. It offers its M.B.A.s something none of the others do: the Associate Board, made up of Dallas’s young, very well-placed executives. Each student is assigned three board members who act as mentors, giving advice and direction during the program. Many students end up getting jobs through the board.

Since the arrival in 1982 of Dean Roy A. Herberger Jr., thirty-one professors have been recruited to the Edwin L. Cox School of Business at SMU, vastly improving its overall quality. They boast doctorates from schools like Yale, Purdue, Columbia, and Berkeley. SMU’s central location and proximity to downtown Dallas (the campus is at Mockingbird Lane between North Central Expressway and Hillcrest Road) are attractive characteristics. SMU’s alums are also one of the school’s greatest assets, being highly visible and free with financial backing.

SMU has weaknesses that, according to associate dean for external affairs Daniel R. Weston, are being remedied. It offers the only one-year M.B. A. in the area, a thirty-six-hour program cattily called a “quickie” by deans of some of the other schools. (Ironically, that’s why some students choose the program.) Following a national trend toward two-year programs with more credit hours, the SMU administration has decided to add a two-year program that will be in place in 1988 or 1989. SMU will continue to offer the one-year program to students with undergraduate business degrees.

Another weakness has been the aging facility for the business school, which in 1984 was estimated at 300 percent over capacity. The crane now in the middle of the campus is busy with the construction of two new wings for the business school.

SMU also has the youngest student body of area business schools, with an average age of 25.4 for its full-time students and 27 for part time. A new priority with many business schools is a student body with working experience, and SMU is trying to enroll that older, experienced student.

Don’t rule out SMU just because it is the most expensive program in town ($293 a semester hour, not including fees). Last fell, 60 percent of the full-time students were receiving financial aid. SMU ranks near the top of this list even though some consider it overrated for its price. But don’t go there just because the name may carry a little more clout in Dallas. And don’t assume it’s “the best” just because it is a private institution. SMU’s M.B.A. curriculum has a bent toward general management, while the national and local trend in M.B.A. programs is toward specialization. If you warn an M.B.A. that concentrates heavily in one area such as finance or computer information systems, this program is not for you.



TEXAS CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITY

In many ways, TCU’s M.J. Neeley School of Business is a small version of SMU in Fort Worth. It is in touch with the business community in Fort Worth as well as the Dallas business community. It has a history of successful and generous alumni who have enhanced the institution’s reputation. Its students are younger (average age upon entry is twenty-six), and the majority of them go full time. At $182 a semester hour, not including fees, TCU is more expensive than state schools, but is still less than SMU. The big Dallas banks hire TCU M.B.A.s just as they hire them from UTA, NTSU, and SMU… but TCU is in Fort Worth, which discourages many Dallas commuter students who want to avoid the turnpike trek.



UNIVERSITY OF DALLAS

UD, which is located in Irving, has a history of catering to the older, working professional and has tailored its program to that student’s needs. A natural evolution, therefore, has been a program offering specializations in areas where its students are currendy working-from health professions to high-tech. That’s why Tina Atteberry chose to get her M.B.A. from UD. Atteberry has a background in nursing and as a marketing director. She was looking specifically for a school that offered an M.B.A. with an emphasis in health services management. UD did. Since UD is a private institution with tuition of $175 a semester hour before fees, Attebeny was discouraged, but she found UD willing to work with her. She was offered a position as a graduate assistant that paid for her tuition. That is one of the strong points of UD-personal attention to the student. Most of the professors are part time and unten-ured, but are reasonably accessible. UD’s faculty is both a strength and a weakness, depending on what you are looking for. There is no concentration of full-time Ph.D.s, but rather educated business people who have been very successful in their fields.

Since most UD students are employed, they are themselves a source for job networking. Acting on a tip from peers, Atteberry interviewed for a job she eventually landed with Witt Associates, Inc., a health care executive search firm. But other than the students, the professors, and a bulletin board where jobs are regularly posted, UD doesn’t have much to offer the student looking for a job. Of course, the majority of them already have jobs. But Keller, who’s been at UD just ten months, plans to strengthen UD’s placement program and gear it to helping students with career development and strategy rather than the more traditional function of placement offices.

UD has one of the best M.B.A. programs in the city-if you know your specific goals on the way in and know that the university will meet those needs. It has not been strong in the area of finance.



UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT ARLINGTON Jim Walther, an M.B.A. adviser at UTA, likes to think that in UTA’s M.B.A. program the theories of the ivory tower collide with the pragmatic concerns of the business world. That’s because UTA’s faculty of Ph.D.s teaches a largely professional student body. Their faculty is not like UD’s, chock-full of street moxie, but rather “stresses the analytic, diagnostic, and conceptual skills needed to understand the dynamics of the internal environment of the organization,” says Walther, a Ph.D. himself, in Ph.D.-speak. In other words, it teaches The Big Picture. The students, on the other hand, bring the street moxie into the classroom.

UTA rides the fence between a general and a specialized M.B.A., requiring a basis of general management courses and offering ten areas of concentration. It has a strong reputation in accounting in the business community. It’s no coincidence that UTA’s accounting graduates are also the most cohesive and active of its alumni. Other strong areas are management information systems and finance. As far as its general reputation is concerned, UTA has suffered. Warren D. Robb, Ph.D., head of the school’s placement office, thinks that’s due to inactive alumni and-back to the power of the pigskin-a traditionally awful football team. The school recently dropped the sport. “I think the elimination of the football program will actually help the academic reputation,” Robb says, “because UTA has been known as a loser school in the past.”

Being a large state institution, UTA has more and better facilities to offer students than a UD or an Amber or a newer and smaller school like UTD.

Some Dallas residents may be discouraged by the drive out 1-30 and through Arlington, but if it’s not raining, and there’s not a wreck on I-30, and it’s not rush hour, then it’s really not that bad.



UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT DALLAS

Watch out, area deans. The infant of local M.B.A. programs, UTD. is ready to give you all a run for the money; that is, the tuition money and the donation dollars from area businesses. The school of management’s new dean, Martin Geisel, is there to tell everyone that UTD’s faculty is, per capita, very strong. In fact, he calls it the strongest, the best in the area.

“I don’t like to make outlandish statements, and I don’t think that one is outlandish,” he says.

Indeed, UTD, which is in Richardson, does have a strong faculty; virtually all are Ph.D.s from the best schools across the country. One of the most distinguished business faculty members in the state is UTD’s Frank M. Bass, who some, including Geisel, call the founder of modern marketing. It follows that marketing is one of the strong points of UTD’s program. Other strong areas at UTD are accounting, management information systems, finance, and international management. It is probably the most quantitative of the programs in the Dallas area, which for many students translates into “more math1’ and “harder.”

UTD’s weaknesses are almost exclusively related to its youth. The school of management is just over a decade old. The M.B.A. degree is even newer; its first graduates are just now trickling into the work force. “We attract good levels of support from a variety of Dallas-area firms, but we don’t have 200,000 alumni who’ve been alumni for thirty or forty years bestowing us with a million dollars a flip,” Geisel says.

Geisel knows that UTD is inadequately known in the business community and blames that on a lack of aggressive marketing. But PR takes dollars, and state institutions aren’t going to be cash rich during the next few years.

Despite its loose relationship with the business community, UTD’s placement office functions much like those at the more established schools. Jerry C. Moore, director of career planning and placement at UTD, says she has been successful in placing UTD’s M.B.A.s. UTD had 190 companies visit the campus this year for 2,747 on-campus job interviews. Those numbers beat every school in town except UTA.

UTD’s greatest weakness, without a doubt, is access. It’s called a commuter school, and its students commute, and commute, and commute. From the south, the only way to reach UTD is via North Central Expressway to Campbell Road. The state highway department says that too may be taken care of-with time. Central is being widened, and some day State Highway 190 will offer a northern entrance to UTD.

In the meantime, it looks as though I maybe spending the next few years on CentralExpressway. I’ve narrowed my choices toSMU and UTD.

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