A BOOMING SEATTLE ECONOMY CLEARLY PLAYED A ROLE IN THE SCHOOL’S ASCENDANCY
The booming economy in Seattle clearly played a role in the school’s ascendancy. “Students who are thinking they want to end up at Microsoft or Amazon are asking ‘where am I going to have the best shot?’ If you want to build a network of people who who are currently at Amazon or Microsoft, the Foster School is a terrific environment. And then there are all kinds of small companies in Seattle. A lot of students want to be at a startup. The Bay Area is in a league of its own and then there is Boston and then Seattle. So entrepreneurship is something we paid a lot of attention to. We have a very, very strong center and great coursework and great experieneital learning.”
He has smartly tapped into the Seattle business community for speakers, adjunct faculty, mentors and competition judges. When Jiambalvo met with the latest incoming class of Executive MBAs, he asked them to guess how many executives are on campus in a given year. One student estimated 13, another 20. In fact, each year some 2,000 business executives come on the Foster campus, adding real world learning to all of the school’s undergraduate and master’s level programs.
He uses advisory boards to get executives more deeply involved in the school, with a 60-person strong board for the school, as well as advisory boards for master’s programs and academic centers. Roll them all together and there are more than 300 advisory board members at Foster, a more than sixfold increase from when he became dean. “They are brand ambassadors. They support you financially. They give you good advice. And they talk up the Foster school.”
A FOCUS ON QUALITY NOT GROWTH IN STUDENT ENROLLMENT
Rather than focus on growth in his full-time MBA program, however, Jiambalvo put the emphasis on quality. The latest incoming class reflects that continuing strategy. As applications tumbled at Foster as they did at virtually every U.S. business school from Harvard to Stanford, Foster chose to shrink the class size to 90 from 128 rather than fill all the available seats. “We knew the market for 2017 admission would be down with a significant decline in international applicants across the U.S.,” explains Dan Poston, assistant dean of MBA programs.
Other schools, thought Poston, would more likely scramble to make up quality enrollment and fill classes by going deeper into the domestic applicant pool. “For 2017 we opted not to lower admissions standards to compensate, instead standing firm on all quality metrics,” he says. “On the other hand, our candidate pool for 2018 surprised us a bit. The numbers were down slightly but the quality of the pool was exceptional.”
This year’s incoming MBAs boast a 696 average GMAT – a three point improvement over last year and up from 652 in 2001. Undergraduate GPAs also rose from 3.31 to 3.43. Demographically, the school’s enhanced outreach to women paid major dividends. Women make up 42% of the fall class – nearly 10 points higher than three years ago. International students also account for 27% of the class. An interesting side note: Just 26% of the class hails from the State of Washington.
99% OF FOSTER MBA GRADUATES HAD JOBS WITHIN THREE MONTHS OF COMMENCEMENT
In its undergraduate program, the school is inching closer to 300 freshman direct admits a year (up from only 35 when he became dean), with a throughput of 700 undergrads a year. The latest incoming class of freshmen boasted average GPAs of 3.88 and a 1350 average SAT score. Most impressively, Foster leads the entire university with the highest four-year graduation rate and percentage of students who study abroad.
Foster has no trouble placing its students into great jobs. This year, 99% of Foster MBAs had accepted a job offer within three months of graduation. The year before? The number stood at 98.1%. These aren’t placeholder jobs to cover the rent, either. They are high-paying, high impact positions, starting at $118,355 on average. That doesn’t count the $38,695 signing bonuses that three quarters of graduates received, too. It’s up from $74K in starting pay and bonus in 2001.
Looking back over all the nearly 14 years in the job, would Jiambalvo do anything differently. Not on your life. “I know this sounds crazy, but I think things have just gone really well. There is nothing I regret. I was probably slow to get behind an online MBA, and I think being slow and measured put us in a better place. You’ve got to look over your shoulder as a leader and make sure people are following you. When you run out ahead of everyone, you don’t see those people behind you.
‘I CAN’T TAKE CREDIT FOR ANY INNOVATION. IT’S A TEAM SPORT AND WE HAVE A GREAT TEAM’
“I have tried to be a good listener. I can’t take credit for any innovation. It has always been some faculty member or a staff member saying, ‘Hey Jim, what do you think about this?’ I think about it. We get a committee and we go do it. It’s a team sport and we have a great team. I wouldn’t say there is unanimous support but for every action we’ve taken, there has been strong support.”
Jiambalvo thinks he will miss the job when he turns over the keys to Frank Hodge in July. He had actually planned to step down last June but the university president asked him to stay until the university completed ongoing searches for a new provost and several other deanships. “I was almost kind of relieved,” he concedes. “I was having trouble letting go. I have really enjoyed being dean of the Foster School. But now I have my head around it, and I am looking forward to this final year and a break. Fourteen years is a good run.”