Southern California business schools saw another year of enrollment growth from students looking to ramp up their skills amid an economic downturn.
Enrollment at colleges providing master’s in business administration degrees in Orange County and across the region rose 4.6% to 18,361 students during the past year, according to this week’s Business Journal directory of MBA programs.
The Business Journal’s directory includes listings for all schools offering MBA programs throughout Southern California. Many of the schoools, but not all, have OC campuses.
Colleges with campuses in the county reported a 6.2% increase in enrollment at their local campuses in the past year.
The county’s three major schools,the University of California, Irvine, California State University, Fullerton, and Chapman University in Orange,dominate with 1,594 MBA students, 28% of those enrolled at schools with OC campuses.
The schools saw MBA enrollment rise 6% in the past year.
TUI University, which holds classes online and is owned by Cypress-based TUI University LLC, has the biggest enrollment in OC at 2,553 local students.
The for-profit school operator caters to working people and military personnel.
The enrollment gains seen at many of the schools on the directory reflect a trend of more Southern California residents heading back to school amid a weak economy.
“A weak economy tends to push workers to go back to school whether it’s because of layoffs or because they want to get better skills to help them stand out,” said Bruce Hanson, MBA program director at Concordia University in Irvine.
Concordia’s MBA program saw enrollment grow 43% to 100 students.
The Christian school has tried to attract students to its program by offering a broader selection of courses and electives, from environmental and energy sustainability to basic sales training, Hanson said.
“We’re staying current on what’s needed in the business world,” he said.
Public universities in OC are expanding their MBA programs with more programs to accommodate growing interest.
Cal State Fullerton, which has the largest business school in the state, is expanding through state bond money and bid donations from graduates.
The university saw enrollment in its MBA program jump 5% to 466 students, including at a satellite campus in Irvine.
Fullerton’s Steven G. Mihaylo College of Business and Economics has gained attention in the past few years from students and benefactors.
The school has raised more than $50 million in donations in the past few years, which includes a $30 million donation from alumni Steven G. Mihaylo, founder of Arizona-based Inter-Tel Inc., now part of Canada’s Mitel Networks Corp.
The money went toward a new business school building and is set to fund professors on the undergraduate and graduate level, according to the school.
Earlier this month, the university celebrated the grand opening of its $88 million Steven G. Mihaylo business school building.
The funding and construction for the building was a six-year process and a dream come true for business school dean Anil Puri, he said.
The 195,000-square-foot building features high-tech classrooms and computer labs, a 250-seat tiered lecture hall and a state-of-the-art interactive facility.
“This world class learning facility is the biggest success in 50 years of Cal State Fullerton and is a promise for tomorrow and all of our students,” university President Milton Gordon said at an Oct. 17 dedication ceremony. “It is the front door to our campus now and everything that we do from this point on, it will be recognized as such.”
Cal State Fullerton’s MBA program, which spans about two years, has tuition costs of about $11,000 compared to an MBA program at University of Southern California, which costs upward of $98,000.
But USC’s prestige and its reputation for plugging students in to a vast network of businesspeople helped attract students: Trojan MBA enrollment rose by 27% in Southern California to 1,690 students. The university’s OC enrollment was flat at 377 people.
UC Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business MBA program saw its enrollment grow 1.2% to 875 students in OC.
The school, which attracts a strong contingent of mid-career professionals seeking to perfect their business skills, has steadily grown over the years.
The school has garnered attention from students by offering courses and seminars that are taught by business executives to help give their students a real world perspective on various industries.
The school is offering more programs with UCI’s other schools.
One project that’s in the works is a dual degree program with UCI’s School of Law, which is set to open next year.
Graduate students enrolling at UCI in 2009 can earn a juris doctorate and a master’s in business administration simultaneously.
Employers find the combination of legal and business knowledge attractive in the hiring process as the two become more intertwined.
The four- to five-year program will offer courses in law and business, which will be taught by UCI professors and industry professionals.
“We think the combination of law and business is very powerful,” dean Andy Policano said in an earlier interview. “A lot of students coming out of law school don’t understand business and the same thing happens in the opposite direction for students graduating from an MBA program,they don’t understand the legal environment.”
Private university MBA programs in OC also are seeing enrollment gains.
Chapman’s George L. Argyros School of Business and Economics in Orange saw its enrollment jump 29% to 253 students in OC.
Pepperdine was one of the handful of schools on the list to see enrollment in its MBA program decline.
The university saw its enrollment drop 2.8% to 280 students in OC. Throughout Southern California, its enrollment grew 1% to 1,539 students.
National University in Costa Mesa’s MBA program has 39 students, a 26% drop from a year earlier.
The biggest gainer in student enrollment in OC was TUI University, formerly known as Touro University.
The college saw enrollment in its MBA program jump 11% to 2,553.
TUI has steadily grown its enrollment thanks to word of mouth and marketing, said Tom Finaly, vice president of public administration.
The school has seen increased interest from busy working professionals who want to take classes over the Internet because it’s more convenient, he said.
TUI’s MBA program has also grown thanks to a strong interest from international students, Finaly said.
Since the college offers all of its degree programs online, the university is able to keep its tuition low because it doesn’t have to deal with the costs of maintaining a campus, Finaly said.
The university’s MBA program costs about $11,000.
“It’s affordable and it’s convenient,” Finaly said.
TUI’s MBA program offers courses in entrepreneurship, international business and other areas.
The school, which is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, competes with other colleges that offer MBA courses online including Illinois-based DeVry University, which has a campus in Irvine.
Finaly believes that weak economic conditions could continue to drive enrollment growth in higher education but also believes that the economic downturn and credit crunch will make it harder for prospective students to get loans, which could deter some from enrolling in school.
“These are uncharted waters,” Finaly said. “In previous economic hardships, we’ve seen enrollment grow but this time we don’t really know what to expect.”