How MS Programs Remade Fordham

Dean David Gautschi of Fordham University's business school

Dean David Gautschi of Fordham University’s business school

When David Gautschi took over as dean of Fordham University’s Graduate School of Business in July of 2010, the economy was still scraping along the bottom of the Great Recession and many were pointing fingers at MBAs for causing the collapse.

“It was not exactly the most favorable set of market conditions,” he recalls. “The whole question of the value of graduate business was somewhat in question.” And then there was Fordham itself, a private university in the middle of Manhattan that has long been an underachiever in business education. The school had largely been known for its massive part-time MBA program where, the dean says, “students parachute in after work, get a stamp and go on their merry way.”

The full-time MBA program was small and inconsequential, deep in the shadows of Columbia Business School, New York University’s Stern School, and Baruch College, all much more highly ranked. MBA applications were declining, and placement of those full-time students was well below rival schools.

‘WE WERE IN A HORSE RACE WITH PACE’

“I always found it curious why Fordham didn’t have a more prominent business school,” says Gautschi, who came to Fordham from the Lally School of Management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, N.Y., where he has served since 2005 as dean and professor of marketing and business economics.  “The MBA program was never terribly well ranked. It had never been ranked by BusinessWeek and its rankings in U.S. News were languishing. We were in a horse race with Pace. My challenge was to come in, turn it around, and take it to the next level.”

It didn’t take him long to conclude that fixing the full-time MBA program in an already highly competitive market wasn’t going to get Fordham much roadway. “The market for the full-time MBA was already weak. We would work on it over time to bring it into a contemporary reality. Instead, our strategy centered around building out a portfolio of one-degree master’s programs.”

And here is where Fordham began to excel. When Gautschi took the dean’s job, Fordham had four existing one-year programs. This September, it will have 17 in everything from quant finance and marketing intelligence to investor relations and taxation.  The school even offers master’s in both media management and media entrepreneurship. What Gautschi saw was increasing interest among both prospective students and employers in one-year programs that better prepare students with the specialized knowledge to hit the ground running. These master’s programs also don’t require the expense or the time of a two-year, full-time MBA.

A MAJOR SHIFT TO FULL-TIME STUDENTS FROM PART-TIMERS

When he arrived, nearly 70% of the business school’s enrollment was part-time. Now more than 70% of the students are in full-time programs, with 30% going part-time. All told, Fordham now has roughly 1,682 students in graduate business programs, up from 1,350 in 2010. More importantly, though, instead of having 70% of the students paying part-time tuition, Gautschi has 70% paying full-time fees. Indeed, the total number enrolled in one-year programs are now a majority, 1,127 students vs. part-time enrollment of 555.

Roughly 60% of the students are international, with the largest single nationality Chinese. Students from China account for about 30% of the total, followed by smaller percentages of students from India, Tunisia, South Africa, and Serbia. About 54% of the graduate students are female, an unusually high percentage. And rankings are up, too. In the fall of 2012, for the first time ever, Bloomberg BusinessWeek ranked Fordham among its best business schools. And U.S. News last year ranked the school 79th, up 20 places in two years.

One-year master’s programs, of course, are exploding everywhere. Hardly a week goes by when a prominent business school isn’t announcing yet another one. These shorter, more career-focused degrees are often viewed as alternative MBAs. But in fact, most of them are taken by students with little to no work experience, many of whom find that their undergraduate degrees in the humanities isn’t always a ticket to a good job.