In some ways Central Connecticut State University’s School of Business may seem like a hidden treasure trove. Holding an elite accreditation shared by only 6 percent of business schools worldwide, the school’s MBA Program is becoming a regional leader in both value for money and quality of education.
Launched in Fall 2014, Associate Professor and MBA Program Advisor Mark Cistulli and Associate Professor turned Associate Dean of the School of Business Jason Snyder created the program with flexibility in mind to meet the needs of working professionals.
Believe it or not, the MBA program’s story is one that actually begins with an ending: back in 2006, the School of Business discontinued its MBA program in order to focus on pursuing AACSB accreditation for the undergraduate side of the school. AACSB stands for the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, and is an elite accreditation held by only 6% of business schools in the world.
With that goal in mind, the decision to discontinue graduate education served to better strengthen the school’s case for accreditation. In 2013, just as the school received its AACSB accreditation, Dr. Snyder was able to speak with the Dean about the future of the school. “One of the things discussed,” explained Dr. Snyder, “was the possibility of bringing graduate education back to the School of Business. As a result, we decided to conduct some research to better understand the viability of pursuing that course.”
From the outset of the project, it wasn’t clear if an MBA program was possible. “The MBA marketplace was highly competitive at that time – it still is – so we really had to determine whether or not there was space for another program,” Dr. Snyder recalled. “Our research told us that there was pent up demand for a part-time MBA program that was flexible enough to meet the needs of working professionals.”
As a product of their research, Dr. Snyder and Dr. Cistulli worked with their faculty colleagues to make sure to build the structure of the program around evening classes for working professionals. In addition to working, students might also have family commitments and obligations. With students’ other responsibilities in mind, the decision was made to conduct classes both onsite and online as a 50/50 hybrid for the program. “The hybrid delivery system allows us to provide students with a high quality educational experience while enabling them to balance work, life, and school,” Dr. Snyder explained. With CCSU’s hybrid method, students don’t have to commute to the campus every day, but are still able to have much desired face time with professors.
And there are more benefits of the program. “We are the least expensive of all the AACSB-accredited programs in the region,” Dr. Snyder stated, “the fact that we’re able to demonstrate to students that we can offer them an equivalent quality education that they could receive at private institutions, while also being substantially less expensive, is a real selling point. We’re able to be a value leader.”
Dr. Cistulli explained further. “The truth is that the state faces budgetary issues, so we’ve had to take a cost-effective approach on how to put an effective program together while facing very, very difficult economic conditions in the state and just generally for the population. To see the program grow so much so quickly is really a point of pride for us.”
The inaugural semester for the MBA program was Fall 2014. In just under three years, the program has grown to well over 300 students. In the opening semester, the program had 80 students enroll in classes, double the projected number of 40 for the first semester. The program has been growing at 50 or more additional students per year since then.
Though many may not be aware, a lot of work goes into the creation of a program before it’s offered to students at a university. “The rest of the campus sees the business school as one giant department, but really we’re five separate departments. And an MBA is an interdisciplinary degree,” Dr. Snyder pointed out. This means that the professors had to work closely with colleagues across five different departments to build the MBA curriculum and the model that would be used for specializations, beginning with Accounting and Business Analytics.
Despite the work required, the faculty remained determined. Dr. Snyder and Dr. Cistulli presented a proposal to the faculty at the School of Business in November 2013. By late February/early March 2014, the curriculum approval process began, as did the Board of Regents approval process. Both processes concluded in May 2014, and the team began advertising the program and received the first applications by the end of the same month. In a matter of eight months, CCSU’s School of Business was able to launch a robust and successful MBA program.
“When you work for a state or a state entity, there’s a lot of leg work, a lot of bureaucracy, a lot of paperwork, a lot of just general work you have to do to get things done,” said Dr. Cistulli. “We’re proud that we were able to do that work so quickly. As a faculty, we’re proud to have been able to come together to create a program that’s valuable to our constituency. People can be proud of the product we’ve put together, which is really our goal. With the AACSB accreditation and the new MBA program, the profile not only of the School of Business, but of Central Connecticut State University has been raised.”
Between attaining AACSB Accreditation and launching the MBA program, the School of Business has demonstrated how faculty can come together to accomplish big goals that serve the best interests of CCSU students and employees, and the state in terms of economic development.
“What we have to do now is continue managing the program to ensure that the quality of education remains high and still meets the standards of the AACSB while also meeting workforce demands of the state,” explained Dr. Snyder. “One of the ways we’ve done that is to be very strategic in the way that we’ve grown. We began with the Accounting and Business Analytics specializations, this year we’ve added Finance, and we’re in the process now of finalizing curriculum approval for a new specialization in Supply Chain Analytics.”
The program also features a Central Track, which allows students to mix and match across specializations to create a more tailored education.
Many of the students enrolled in CCSU’s MBA Program come from non-traditional backgrounds. “We’ve created the program in such a way that if students come to us with backgrounds outside of business, we’re able to get them up to speed before we really throw them into the heart of the work,” said Dr. Snyder. For example, one of the more recent graduates from the MBA program, specializing in Business Analytics, was an Art History major as an undergraduate.
“We have a really diverse student population,” Dr. Cistulli elaborated. “We have people from broadcast, we have an astronomer, someone from psychology, we have a Catholic nun, who’s one of our best students. This diversity goes back to developing a student-centric program that meets students where they are. And you need really good, solid faculty support for that. This program just wouldn’t happen without the CCSU faculty and their commitment.”
Dr. Snyder and Dr. Cistulli have high hopes for the future of the program. “There’s still room for growth in the MBA,” said Dr. Snyder. “It’s just a matter of making sure we do it smartly. Our goal is to make sure that whatever we do to grow the program meets the high quality and educational standards that we have set for ourselves, as well as the needs of our students, their careers, and actual workforce needs as well.”