By Casey S. Elliott
On a typical day, students in the College of Business might be working on a marketing video for the Dairy Barn in Athens. Or poring over the books of The Ohio University Foundation, in tandem with professional auditors to test internal controls. Or helping an international manufacturer decide whether it makes more sense to expand production by adding a third shift of workers or a new assembly line.
The tie that binds all three projects is hands-on learning, and it's one reason why Ohio University's College of Business earned a spot in the top 50 undergraduate business programs nationwide by BusinessWeek magazine in its March 9 issue.
The magazine started with 137 eligible schools, eliminating some because of low response rates from students or recruiters. The remaining 101 schools were evaluated on nine measures of academic quality, student satisfaction and post-graduation outcomes. This year, Ohio University landed at 47, up from 62 in 2007, the last time the college was ranked.
"The college has a long-standing commitment to providing our students more than learning the latest business tools, models and concepts,'' Dean Hugh Sherman said. "Equally important, we provide students the opportunity to learn how to apply this knowledge in real-life consulting projects. It is our intention to increase these experiences for our students."
Sherman and other faculty members say the college has made a concerted effort to reinforce the practical application of theories taught in the classroom. The result has been a number of unique programs, including the Integrated Business Cluster program, the Global Competitiveness Program and the award-winning Ralph and Luci Schey Sales Centre, which offers six types of certificates in sales and requires an internship.
In the cluster program, for example, four classes – finance, management, marketing and management information systems -- are combined into one integrated class during a quarter with a team of professors overseeing the work. Students then form teams to solve authentic business problems, often with real clients. The theory, college officials say, is that no one aspect of business – marketing, for example -- would operate in a vacuum without input from other key areas, so why should instruction?
"The cluster is a challenging exposure to real-world problems and problem-solving, forcing students to take a holistic view of business, develop outstanding teamwork and apply core business concepts to ambiguous situations,'' said Gary Coombs, cluster coordinator and associate professor.
"Those who have hired our graduates often point to the cluster and the difference that they see in our graduates compared to those from other universities in their ability to be self-starters," he added.
The Global Competitiveness Program embraces a similar approach. As part of the program, juniors and seniors work abroad in one of nine countries during the summer. Before they leave, they receive concentrated instruction in that country's language, culture and business style.
While abroad, they will tackle a two-week long project at a selected business, partnering with students who live and study in that country. At the end of their stay, students meet with company representatives to make their recommendations.
Current students said they find this approach to be a great way to learn what conducting international business really is all about. Moreover, they said the rigor of instruction prepares them for life in the work world.
"With other programs, you can sit in a classroom, listen to a lecture, hear the theories, memorize the information, take the exam and then forget it all come spring break," said John Ryan, a junior in the College of Business. "But real learning takes place with the application of your knowledge, and we get that here. I think that I got a feel for what the industry is all about."
The college's curriculum, said sophomore Caroline Johnson, doesn't brook slackers.
"It creates a work ethic,'' Johnson said. "You realize you can't quit when the work gets hard.''
According to BusinessWeek, Ohio University students reported spending 17.7 hours a week hitting the books, compared with the top 50 schools' average of 14.8 hours. That effort ranked Ohio University's students No. 6 in the category of hardest-working students.
While the quality of teaching and student satisfaction factored into the magazine's overall rankings, the report also considered pocketbook concerns and post-graduation outcomes.
Ohio University performed well when measuring the return on investment, or comparing median starting salaries against tuition. In this aspect, the program ranked No. 13, with graduates earning $5.50 for every dollar they paid in tuition. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, students got the most bang for their tuition buck, earning a return of nearly $10, according to BusinessWeek.
In the placement category, the college earned an A. About 65 percent of Ohio University's undergraduates have a job upon graduation, college statistics show.
Sherman said faculty members take charge of organizing informal evening sessions in which students meet corporate recruiters. During these events, recruiters come to visit, meet students, and discuss employment opportunities. More formal interview opportunities can follow.
New programs also are on tap: This fall, the college plans to offer two new certificate programs, through a new Center for Entrepreneurship and a Strategic Leadership Center.
The Center for Entrepreneurship will offer a certificate program aimed at preparing students to create and launch a new business. As part of the curriculum, students will work with local entrepreneurs and will develop their own new business plans.
Meanwhile, the Strategic Leadership Center hopes to build on skills many of the school's top-performing students started developing in secondary school. The new certificate is aimed at developing leaders who can create new or additional value for whatever organization they decide to join.
"We realize that we didn't break into the BusinessWeek top 50 by resting on our laurels and we're not going to stop pushing forward,'' Sherman said. "These two new certificate programs address real needs in today's business world. We'll continue to look for avenues to match what we offer our students and what the market demands.''