Dal MBA student upset over new program's planning

Dalhousie’s launching a restructured MBA program in July 2009, but students say there are hitches and some employers aren’t certain of the program’s merits

Dalhousie University is overhauling its Master of Business Administration (MBA) program next year. The major selling point is its new corporate residency program — and it’s branded as the only one of its kind in the country.

JoAnne Akerboom, the director of external affairs of the MBA program, explains this residency is an eight-month internship period with an employer.

“The reason we wanted to give it that terminology is we wanted to draw some attention to it,” says Akerboom. “And it is a little different than other co-op or internship opportunities in that this is really an integrative process that is going to take place from the beginning of the program right through to the end.”

Building corporate ties

The plans for the program have been in the works for the past two years. This is the first time the Dalhousie MBA program is offering work experience built into it. The university modelled this approach after its Bachelor of Commerce program, which offers three shorter co-op work terms throughout its four years.

The two-year MBA program begins in July 2009. After six months of classes, students will leave on their work placements, where they’ll continue taking two online courses. Dalhousie has already secured partnerships with corporations such as BMO Financial Group and IBM.

Akerboom says the big gain of the program is making employment easier on students.

“The intent is once they finish that corporate residency, the employer is so hooked on them they’re going to make a job offer,” says Akerboom.

The program comes with a larger price tag. Two-year total tuition will spike from roughly $15,000 to $38,000. Akerboom says part of this is to put Dalhousie closer in line with other schools’ tuition across the country. Queen’s University’s MBA program costs close to $60,000, while the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey MBA tuition costs roughly $62,000.

Even with the tuition hike, Akerboom says the program’s not a hard sell. She says with the corporate residency period, students will end up making at least $30,000 of that $38,000 back.

According to Akerboom, Dalhousie has already received 397 inquiries from prospective students about the program and the university has already received 28 partial applications out of a maximum of 50 spots. The final deadline’s not until March 15.

Student groups want more say

Adam Marsh, president of Dalhousie’s MBA society, says the new internship portion of the program is appealing. His biggest concern with the current program was students’ difficulty in finding summer internships and placements, especially because Dalhousie, unlike schools such as the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business, doesn’t require work experience prior to enrolment.

“About three fourths of students who entered the MBA program had no work experience at all,” says Marsh. “So when they leave the program they’re not getting as good jobs as a student that’s leaving another program which requires work experience. So I think it prepares people a little better, working in the outside world and gaining industry experience.”

Marsh says he thinks the revamped program will boost the school of business’s reputation.

“Dalhousie on the whole has a very good reputation across Canada, but the MBA program seems to lack that a little bit,” he says. “It basically just uses the Dalhousie school reputation on a whole as opposed to the MBA program reputation. So I think this would definitely bolster the reputation a little bit.”

In Maclean’s 2008 national reputational university rankings, Dalhousie landed the 14th spot out of 48 schools for the best overall category. But it didn’t make the list for the Financial Times Global MBA 2008 rankings, where six Canadian universities were listed. And in Canadian Business’ most recent MBA Guide, Dalhousie was listed as having 65 per cent of its students employed post-graduation, while Richard Ivey had 92 per cent and Rotman had 94 per cent.

But there are some drawbacks to the program, says Marsh. He says because the work term begins only six months after classes start, students wouldn’t have been able to build solid relationships, which could hinder the development of student societies.

He also says current students didn’t play as big of a role in the planning process as he would have liked.

“Most of the planning is done by the administrative staff,” explains Marsh. “So other than opinion polls and asking what we’d like to see different in this program as opposed to the program we’re in now, we’re not actively involved in the planning process.”

Marsh says an MBA student is sitting on the corporate residency planning committee, but that it’s primarily the faculty calling the shots.

“We really don’t hold much weight in the planning process as far as going out and recruiting companies for students to have internships with,” he says.

Employers disagree

Lee Bragg, the co-CEO of EastLink, says students graduating from the eight-month program would have a leg up on students having shorter co-op work terms.

“I almost wouldn’t mind if it was actually longer,” says Bragg. “Some of the shorter ones are actually a challenge for the organization to find a meaningful role…But in eight months at least you can say, ‘well, I can invest some time.’”

Bragg says a longer time period for a work term gives employers two to three months to understand the organization and show them how their role can contribute to the company, and then they have a longer period of time to provide value and gain for the organization.

But Simon Vaysman, associate vice-president of treasury and balance sheet management at the TD Bank Financial Group, doesn’t see it the same way.

“From my perspective, if somebody was a co-op versus a full-time student, I cannot say that one is better than another,” he says.

Vaysman explains the company he works for has hired co-op students from Canadian universities and there is a good chance it will offer these students full-time employment later on. But he sees a problem with work terms occuring in the middle of academic study.

“They may lose focus a little bit and their academic knowledge may not be as solid as the people from full-time (studying),” he says.

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