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Business school battle shapes up in Santa Barbara

By   /   Monday, April 12th, 2010  /   Comments Off on Business school battle shapes up in Santa Barbara

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A three-way fight is breaking out to offer evening master’s of business administration classes in Santa Barbara.

The latest entrant is Pepperdine University, which struck a sponsorship deal April 8 with the University of California, Santa Barbara, Alumni Association to tap the association’s events and e-mails to advertise the school’s nighttime MBA program in Westlake Village. Though it’s a marketing agreement now, Pepperdine says it is considering offering MBA classes in Santa Barbara.

That news comes as California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, has confirmed that it will offer two MBA-level courses in Santa Barbara this fall.

Cal Poly announced in August that it was exploring demand in Santa Barbara. Shortly after that, Richard Rush, president of California State University, Channel Islands, which also offers a nighttime MBA program, said “Santa Barbara is our territory — we’re not giving it up.”

The three universities are angling to fill a void left by the University of California, Santa Barbara. Though it has undergraduate degrees in technology management and master’s degrees in economics and environmental management, the school has no graduate business program.

John Loftus is the assistant director of the UCSB Alumni Association who crafted the deal with Pepperdine. He said that conundrum caught his attention.

“UCSB, though it has really phenomenal programs, does not have a professional business school,” Loftus said.

Right now, the Pepperdine-UCSB Alumni sponsorship agreement is limited to marketing the nighttime MBA program offered at Pepperdine’s Westlake Village office. Pepperdine has been focusing recruiting efforts on Santa Barbara, specifically among UCSB graduates, which include a sizable contingent of scientists and engineers with business interests.

Kim Weiss, executive director of recruitment and corporate relations for the fully employed MBA program at Pepperdine’s Graziadio School of Business, said there’s been positive feedback about bringing classes to Santa Barbara itself. “We have a pretty good response from candidates who are interested in taking our classes at our Westlake Village campus,” Weiss said.

Pepperdine is in talks over possibly offering MBA classes in the city as early as next year, according to a release from the school.

Cal Poly has done its research into whether Santa Barbara is ripe for a nighttime MBA program and made a decision, said Dave Christy, dean of the Orfalea College of Business at the school. “I can understand why they find Santa Barbara an attractive market, because we find it attractive,” Christy said of Pepperdine’s recent announcement. “We’re definitely going to offer two courses this fall in Santa Barbara,” he said, noting the classes still need approval from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges because they are more than 20 miles from Cal Poly’s campus.

“There’s no question” Cal Poly and Pepperdine would vie for students should Pepperdine move into Santa Barbara, Christy said. “I think we generally benefit from good competition.”

Rush, president of CSUCI, told the Business Times April 7 that the school will announce plans for Santa Barbara soon. “We’re investigating it. We’re almost finished with our review,” he said.

California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks is the only other school the in Tri-Counties that offers a nighttime MBA program. Chuck Maxey, dean of the university’s business school, said CLU’s extensions to Oxnard and Woodland Hills have been successful but that the university passed on Santa Barbara.

“We’ve looked at it in the past, and it just never seemed there was a critical mass in the market for us,” Maxey said. “I’ve always thought UCSB itself was missing the boat by not having an MBA program.”

Loftus, of the Alumni Association, said the dearth of MBA offerings in Santa Barbara itself came to his attention when he was looking at programs to enroll in.

He said he thinks it’s only a matter of time before working professionals can earn an MBA without leaving the Santa Barbara area.
“The thing that had always hit me is that they’re so far,” Loftus said of current programs. “I think it does make sense in the future, whether it’s Pepperdine or CLU or one of the other campuses that offer fully employed programs, to offer classes in Santa Barbara.”

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