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First Look: New Building Signals New Day At Auburn Harbert

Harbert College of Business students navigate their way around the new graduate business building on August 19, 2019, on the first day of fall semester classes at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama. The steps contain the words of the Auburn Creed, written in 1943 by the university’s first football coach, George Petrie. Though classes are underway there now, the new building will be officially unveiled September 13. Photo: Julie Bennett

I believe,” the words begin, “that this is a practical world and that I can count only on what I earn. Therefore, I believe in work, hard work.

The words descend with the stone steps, their letters half a foot high, extolling life’s meaning in a sort of amphitheater of virtue. The Auburn Creed, only 180 words long but integral to the worldview of so many generations of Auburn leaders, was written by George Petrie, the school’s first football coach, in 1943. It ends: “I believe in my Country, because it is a land of freedom and because it is my own home, and that I can best serve that country by ‘doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with my God.’

And because Auburn men and women believe in these things, I believe in Auburn and love it.

A rendering of the aerial view of the Harbert complex, with the stone steps bearing the Auburn Creed connecting the new building, left, and Lowder Hall. Auburn image

Petrie’s words have always resonated at Auburn, but this month they have taken on greater permanency on the Alabama school’s campus. Every day now, thousands of students at the Harbert College of Business walk past the large stone steps inscribed with Petrie’s words, part of a $40 million makeover to the campus that includes a brand-new, 100,000-square-foot building that houses the school’s MBA, executive MBA, and undergraduate programs, as well as facilities for producing the school’s premier online MBA program.

Classes are underway now in the new building, which sits next to Harbert’s Lowder Hall; the stone steps separate the new and old structures, a bridge between the past and present.

“One of the core elements of the culture here is grounded in the Auburn Creed,” says Annette Ranft, dean of the Harbert College. “And in the Auburn Creed, it talks about our values, a spirit that is not afraid. We’re not afraid to work, pursue hard work, those sorts of things.

“One of the things that we did very purposefully with the design of this building was to connect the new building and the old building — the one that I’m sitting in right now — with an outdoor quad area that as you look up a hill, it almost looks like amphitheater seating and on the front face of each one of the steps is a line of the creed. We have a physical reminder of who we are as Auburn, that connects the two buildings into one college.”

NEW HARBERT BUILDING TO BE A HIVE OF ACTIVITY

Auburn Harbert Dean Annette Ranft. Courtesy photo

It’s been an exciting dozen or so years for Auburn’s Harbert College of Business, which celebrated its golden anniversary in 2007. Six years later, the college was named for 1982 alumnus Raymond J. Harbert after a $40 million gift which supported the creation of scholarly positions as well as the formation of the Center for Supply Chain Innovation, a doctoral program, and a wide range of program improvements. Three years after that, spearheaded by Raymond Harbert’s leading gift of $15 million, the school announced plans to build the new building.

Outside Alabama, Auburn Harbert is currently best known for its online MBA program. The new building contains facilities to further invest in and improve a program that Poets&Quants ranked second in the U.S. last year and that U.S. News ranked ninth, tied with three peer programs: Penn State World Campus, University of Mississippi, and University of Wisconsin MBA Consortium. With an enrollment of 372, the Harbert online MBA accepts just over 100 students with each intake, at a 74% selectivity rate. Among the latest enrollees, 90% have an average of 72 months’ previous work experience; they posted an average undergraduate GPA of 3.40 and an average Graduate Management Admission Test score of 576 (GMAT or Graduate Record Exam are required). Nearly three-quarters — 72.1% — are men. Tuition is a bargain at $900 per credit hour; with 39 credit hours required for graduation, that comes to a total tuition bill of $35,100. Concentrations are possible in Finance or Information Systems.

The online MBA at Harbert launched in 1989 as a distance program delivering content on videocassettes. That gives Auburn more experience in the distance learning game than just about all of its peers. Ranft tells Poets&Quants that the design of the new building acknowledges the importance of the online MBA to Harbert’s future. “We’ve now put some spaces together here on this campus that really will elevate those experiences when those folks come to campus,” she says of online MBA students, who visit campus at the end of their capstone consulting project, and who are welcome — and encouraged — to visit campus to attend a live class when convenient. She adds that 75% of the new classrooms are equipped for video capture of classes, speakers, and more.

Compare the growing and thriving Harbert online MBA to the school’s older full-time MBA, ranked 69th by U.S. News (tied with Missouri Trulaske, San Diego Rady, and LSU-Baton Rouge Ourso), up from 73rd in the 2019 ranking and 83rd the year before. P&Q, however, hasn’t been so kind, ranking Auburn Harbert 81st in 2018, up from 92nd. The 18-month program has 77 students enrolled at a 40.7% acceptance rate, with an average GPA of 3.43 and average GMAT of 586. In sharp contrast with the online MBA, only 18% of those who come to the Harbert full-time MBA have work experience (11 months’ average); more than 50% are business undergrads. Concentrations are possible in Finance, Management Information Systems, Supply Chain Management/Logistics, and Quantitative Analysis/Statistics and Operations Research.

Two more sharp contrasts: The Harbert full-time MBA is 41.6% women, and it is more costly at $54,740 tuition for out-of-state students.

Harbert also offers part-time, executive, and dual-degree MBA programs, as well as a trio of specialty master’s programs: Master of Accountancy, Master of Science in Finance, Master of Science in Information Systems. But the school’s biggest constituency is its undergrad ranks, which number more than 5,000 annually. All these will share the new building.

“The addition of our new 100,000-square-foot business building, alongside Lowder Hall, reflects our commitment to create a world-class business school complex that will stand among the nation’s best,” says Ranft, the college’s Wells Fargo professor who became dean in 2018 after leaving the deanship of North Carolina State University’s Poole College of Management. “The ever-evolving needs of our state, our country and indeed the world, requires scholarly thought, innovative thinking and engaged learning. Our expansive educational facilities will not only facilitate the development of job-ready and career-minded graduates, they will provide an opportunity to bring business leaders and events to Auburn. Our ongoing investments in student success are consistent with our mission to produce highly desired graduates and to generate knowledge that drives business thought and practice.”

IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS, ‘A WHOLE NEW BUSINESS COMPLEX’

Ground was broken for the new building in April 2017. Its completion signals a kind of culmination for Harbert, which also has been a major beneficiary of the recently completed “Because This is Auburn” fundraising campaign, which exceeded its $100 million goal by more than $30 million. The money that has come to the business school has gone toward “the creation of more than 20 endowed faculty chair and professorship positions, as well as 100 new endowed funds for excellence in support of such endeavors as international study and internship experiences, a student-managed investment fund and the Tiger Cage student business pitch competition,” according to school reports. Overall from 2010 to 2017, Harbert’s endowment grew more than 230%, sparking the launch of several new research centers, including the Center for Supply Chain Innovation and the interdisciplinary RFID Lab (in collaboration with Auburn’s Ginn College of Engineering and College of Human Sciences). The new building, brimming with high-tech classrooms and other amenities, also contains an innovation lab that will expand the college’s entrepreneurial efforts.

“So while we have a lot of those open-design elements, technological innovations, team rooms, lots of glass, an atrium, open spaces, we also wanted to be true to who we were as we built out this college. And I think you’ll see that in the elements that connect the old to the new,” she says.

Harbert’s new home was partially paid for by college namesake Raymond Harbert, who with his wife, Kathryn Dunn Harbert, a 1981 Auburn alumna, is responsible for two of the four largest gifts in university history. (Raymond Harbert’s company, Harbert Management Corporation, is a Birmingham-based independent investment management firm that manages $4.4 billion in global assets.) But the facelift isn’t complete, Ranft says: After the new building is officially unveiled September 13 and named in the next few months, Lowder Hall, opened in 1992, is slated for renovations.

Auburn is getting ready to sparkle, Ranft says.

“We’ll have a whole new business complex completely redesigned in the next couple of years,” she says.

The new, and as yet unnamed, business building at Auburn University. Photo: Julie Bennett

See more photos of the new Harbert College building, and read the Auburn Creed, on page 2.

READ ABOUT AUBURN HARBERT’S HIGHLY RANKED ONLINE MBA PROGRAM and CHECK OUT OUR TOP ONLINE MBA PROGRAMS OF 2019