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Charlotte business schools expand their mix

In addition to the traditional MBA, Charlotte business schools are featuring more specialized programs, such as master’s degrees in finance and energy systems, to appeal to students pursuing careers emerging in the economic recovery.

Examples include Northeastern University’s Charlotte campus, which is adding several specialized degrees to its lineup this fall designed to match the needs of industries in the region.

UNC Charlotte’s Belk College of Business is developing a graduate program in data science and business analytics to launch in 2014.

And Queens University of Charlotte recently graduated its first class in a graduate specialty program on executive coaching.

Enrollment numbers show the broad-based master of business administration remains the top pick for students, both nationally and locally. But enrollment in specialty programs is gaining steadily. In the 2011-12 school year at U.S. business schools, 75 percent of enrollment was in MBA programs, and 25 percent was in specialty programs, according to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International, a Tampa, Fla.-based accreditation program. That compares with a 78 percent-22 percent split in the 2007-08 school year.

Local business school deans say the recession, which started December 2007 and ended June 2009, prompted more students to pursue tailored studies that matched new career paths triggered by lost jobs, or changing expectations in shrinking workplaces.

As a result, specializing “is a very hot area right now,” said Steven Ott, dean at Belk College of Business. “A lot of students want to focus in on specific areas.”

Here’s what’s new with area business schools:

Northeastern-Charlotte

The Boston-based university opened its Charlotte campus in January 2012. With nine new specialty degree programs launching this fall, the campus will have 17 degree offerings. Programs cover health, energy, finance, government and civic engagement – categories all closely tied to growing industries in the Carolinas, according to Cheryl Richards, dean and chief executive officer at the Charlotte campus.

The additions include two doctoral programs: physical therapy and nursing practice. Seven new master of science degrees are in information assurance, computer science, engineering management, energy systems, criminal justice, public administration, and regulatory affairs for drugs, biologics and medical devices.

Richards said Charlotte’s business community is feeling Northeastern’s influence in other ways. The university’s long-running cooperative education program connects students from all campuses to companies here. And Northeastern’s three-dozen-plus research centers in Boston share information with local employers and researchers, including ones at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis.

“Our commitment to the region is beyond enrollment,” Richards said.

“It’s really connecting the region with an ample supply in the workforce … connecting through our research centers, and any other value we can bring to the region that it otherwise would not have had.”

Queens University

Two master of science specialty programs at the McColl School of Business hit milestones this year.

One in organizational development became the largest graduate program of its kind in the country, with 80 students, according to program director William Sparks. The specialty is “a human resource alternative” to an MBA, Sparks said, with its focus on the dynamics of an organization.

Last month, the inaugural class in the two-year executive coaching program graduated.

Leaders said both programs fit in with Charlotte’s business community, “with the sincere focus that so many of our folks have about human potential … and giving back,” Sparks said.

Charlotte’s changing economy also played a role in the popularity of the specialty programs, said Ron Shiffler, dean at the McColl school.

“If you think about overall business trends in the last five years, organizations have flattened,” Shiffler said.

“A lot of middle managers and professional people have lost their jobs. The needs and the demand for the MBA credential to advance in large organizations probably diminished a bit.”

UNC Charlotte

Summer session classes that started last month showed continued strong interest in the MBA. But the school’s specialty graduate programs in accountancy, mathematical finance and economics are also surging, according to Ott, the dean at Belk College.

Through a $5 million donation from retail giant Belk Inc., the college will develop a master’s in data science and business analytics, tentatively slated to start in the fall of 2014.

A master of science in real estate, launched last year after being on hold a few years during the recession, now has nearly 20 students.

With the housing market coming back, “I think we’re on the upswing with it,” Ott said. “This is the right timing to have the program.”

Wake Forest University – Charlotte Center

Wake Forest’s move from the SouthPark area to uptown a year and a half ago helped boost its MBA enrollment, according to Todd Johnson, executive director of the Charlotte Center. The site also offers a certificate program for nonprofit leaders.

Johnson said the location at North College Street has also brought new attention to the school’s speaker series, which has included Ursula Burns, CEO and chairman of Xerox.

Smith: 704-358-5087
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