As California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, mulls bringing a master’s of business administration program to Santa Barbara, business schools around the Tri-Counties say demand for the degree is booming because of a down economy and that their satellite campuses are going strong.
Cal Poly said Aug. 12 that it plans to conduct a study to see if there’s enough demand in Santa Barbara for it to offer graduate business degree programs in the city starting next fall. Dave Christy, dean of Cal Poly’s Orfalea College of Business, said there’s been a steady stream of inquiries about such an offering and that an MBA program is a crucial part of a community’s business infrastructure.
“If either Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo were to lose our regional airports, we’d be a lot less attractive to businesses,” Christy said. “If you look at some of the start-ups that are emerging – and that we want to continue to emerge – one thing they’re asking is, ‘Are there resources for me to continue my education?’”
Santa Barbara business leaders say an MBA program based around Cal Poly faculty coming down to Santa Barbara could be a boon to the city’s professional community.
“There are a lot of technology companies in Goleta and Santa Barbara that would like to be able to provide an MBA program for their employees,” said Stephen Leider, managing principal at Lee & Associates’ Santa Barbara office and on the advisory board to Cal Poly’s business school. “You also get some students that could do some upper-level research for a company and could be retained during the MBA program. It may be a recruiting opportunity, too.”
As Cal Poly takes a look, leaders at the Tri-Counties other business schools say demand is booming for MBAs.
“There’s a countercyclical aspect to education, and the business-related disciplines and degrees always benefit from that,” said Chuck Maxey, dean of the School of Business at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. “People say, ‘It’s not a good job market, so I’m going take the time now to make this investment in myself.’”
Maxey also said the school’s satellite locations in Oxnard and Woodland Hills are going strong. “We had to move into bigger place [in Oxnard] because we had so much demand in the West County,” Maxey said. “It’s very heavily used for evening programs of all kinds.”
Bill Cordeiro, director of the Martin V. Smith School of Business & Economics at California State University, Channel Islands, near Camarillo, said enrollment at the school’s MBA, run out of a Thousand Oaks facility, rose about 20 percent to 150 this spring. “The demand is strong,” Cordeiro said.
But a generalized increase in demand for MBA degrees is no guarantee that a Cal Poly program would work in Santa Barbara, Christy said. He’ll be looking to see if there are enough of the right kind of people – those with a professional work experience looking to expand their skills. That’s important because MBA students go through a program in small groups and learn from one another.
“We want to make sure we have a sustainable pool of candidates with appropriate qualifications,” Christy said. “Up in San Luis Obispo, we pretty much have a full-time, daytime MBA program. That’s probably not what we need in Santa Barbara. The inquiries we’re getting tend to be from working professionals.”
Christy said he’ll be reaching out to potential students and businesses in Santa Barbara. He’ll be trying to gauge what facilities are available, what schedules would work and what electives might be offered. Christy said he expects to know by the beginning of next year whether a program is feasible and what mix of in-person and online instruction might work. Though Santa Barbara is technology heavy and Cal Poly has offered programs aimed at tech managers, Christy said he would want any program to be broad-based.
“I’m not trying to do a statistical study of demand. It’s talking to individuals and finding out what they’re really passionate about and what their constraints are,” Christy said. “The best MBA experience is when you have people from a variety of industries and businesses all working together.”
Missing in the business school fray is the University of California, Santa Barbara. UCSB does offer a programs for technology entrepreneurs, environmental management, accounting courses and a degree in business economics, but it has no formal business school. Paul Desruisseaux, associate vice chancellor for public affairs, said a part-time course for working professionals would be a welcome addition to the mix of offerings in the city.
“Such a program would actually complement the outstanding master’s degree programs offered by UCSB in economics and in environmental management, both of which are specialized and interdisciplinary,” Desruisseaux said. “So we wish Cal Poly- SLO the best as they consider the feasibility of this new undertaking.”
“I could envision Cal Poly and UCSB working in collaborative ways,” said Leider, the commercial real estate principal. “There’s a lot of talent there that, if mobilized and harnessed correctly, could be very valuable to the community.”
On thing that Cal Poly has going for it is that, like CLU and CSUCI, its MBA program’s capacity isn’t tied directly to state funding. If Christy can come up with the students and the professors, he can go forward with the program as long as it gains approval from the Western Association of Colleges and Schools.
“I don’t have any money to subsidize this, but we think there’s sustainable demand,” Christy said.