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New Focus of Business Schools: Restoring Integrity

degree and cash
Mike Kemp | Getty Images
degree and cash

As Wall Street recovers from the financial crisis, one business school in its backyard is changing the way it positions students for jobs.

“I think business school generally, and MBA programs in particular have taken a black eye because they’ve been implicated in the implosion that everybody saw from September 8 onwards,” David Gautschi, dean of the Fordham University Graduate School of Business, told CNBC.

“It’s a moment where we’re reflecting quite deeply about what the role of business school is and what the MBA should be.”

"Students with internships, a leading indicator of employment for business school students, are also making a comeback."

John Tognino, chairman and CEO of the Pepper Financial Group and a Fordham business school alumnus, echoed Gautschi’s concerns about the blowback from the recession on students—and employers—and confidence in MBA programs.

“I think if we want to restore confidence, we’ve got to restore integrity in all of our parts in the business,” Tognino said. “And what better place to start than at the education level?”

The national unemployment rate is hovering at around9.5 percent. Even more staggering, the unemployment rate for people under 25 is twice that, currently at around 20 percent. As a result, many former MBA candidates are thinking twice about the prospect of pursuing an advanced degree.

“It certainly weighed on me,” said Anthony DeFeo, 25, an MBA student at Fordham, who just accepted a internship in the financial services sector.

In the end, he said, the professors and faculty “really stimulate you and give you different ideas to become business leaders in different industries.”

The financial crisis has led many business schools, including Fordham, to restructure their curricula to manage an economy in constant flux, and address the so-called “black eye” on business head-on.

“The dialog has heightened over the last couple of years,” said Dawn Lerman, associate professor of marketing and chair of the marketing area at Fordham.

“The students are more interested in it, the faculty is putting a greater emphasis on it. We’re infusing it in our courses a little more strongly because this is the dialog that people are having in business and on the streets.”

Restoring integrity to the industry starts with re-energizing students’ passion for the MBA program and related professions upon graduation, said Falguni Sen, professor and acting chair of the management systems.

“If you really feel you can make a change—and I do feel we have to instill that back into the MBA—they are actually there to make a change and if they actually believe that and bring in that passion, then I think that will reflect more of what they would do in their personal lives and reflect that in what they would do in the corporate world.”

One huge bright spot in the industry right now is hiring: accounting, engineering and finance were the three industries that extended the most job offers to recent graduates, according to a report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

On average, MBA grads from the top 45 business schools in the country will make around $2.5 million in base pay and bonuses over the course of a 20-year career.

Hiring season for MBA grads has not yet rebounded from its 2007 highs, but nine of the 45 top MBA programs experienced small upticks in starting salaries in 2010, according to a report by PayScale.com.

“Two years ago, there was a sharp drop in the number of companies that would come to campus,” said Judy Paul, director of career management and advisement at Fordham.

She recalls that in September 2009 company recruiters did set up interview programs at Fordham, but then cancelled before finishing due to hiring freezes at their firms. It was a low point for the school, said Paul. In the past year, though, those recruiters are returning. “It’s not a hundred percent but we’re finding new companies that had never recruited here before coming to Fordham.”

Students with internships, a leading indicator of employment for business school students, are also making a comeback. “Most of them started with internships and are beginning to come back with full-time jobs as well," said Paul, "but we have more companies coming than ever before."

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