Business

Gozinsky: Whitman’s academic innovation shoud lead way for higher student satisfaction

Otto the Orange jogged around, high-fiving students and administrators as champagne bottles were popped and laughter echoed throughout the atrium and hallways. The Martin J. Whitman School of Management had cause for celebration on the morning of April 21: The school had jumped 32 spots in Bloomberg Businessweek’s list of the U.S.’s best undergraduate business schools.

Whitman saw the jump from No. 55 in 2014, the last time Bloomberg released undergraduate rankings. This news is certainly worthy of some champagne bottle popping and Otto dancing. But it is important to note that while Whitman has found success in introducing new curriculums and programs to develop students academically and professionally, the school can do even better by improving its student experience for future classes.

Of the 114 schools ranked, Whitman came in at No. 11 in employer survey, No. 56 in student survey, No. 52 in starting salary rank and No. 20 in internship rank. The favorable results of the employer survey and the internship ranking show how Whitman prepared its graduates well for the real world. And when it comes to enhancing its student life, the school can model solutions after programs that have already been successful.

For example, one aspect of the Whitman experience that potentially dampen the student satisfaction ranking could have been complaints about the school’s “core scheduling.” The latest core curriculum requires students to take predetermined blocks of three classes together in a semester and they are not able to make their own schedule because of it.

This can be frustrating for dual major students with conflicting requirements, because it’s difficult to fit all the classes into their pre-made schedules. Rather than allowing students to exercise the freedom that they so value in college, this system stifles students’ abilities to control how their days are mapped out. Making the classes co-requisites is logical, but Whitman should create a core that gives students more flexibility.

Bloomberg’s acknowledgement of Whitman’s excellence comes on the heels of a big year for student-centric programming. The Goodman IMPRESS program that encourages professional engagement for students concluded its second full year, Whitman faculty helped launch a student-run consulting firm Consurtio to offer hands-on job experience to students and the school introduced a new curriculum in effect for the first time this past year. All of these recent initiatives clearly had students’ agency in mind, so Whitman should take it into consideration again when creating academic concepts like core scheduling.

The IMPRESS program in particular has had a tangible, beneficial impact on the student body. Not only does it give Whitman students something else to brag about on their resume, but it also better prepares them for the real world.

Whitman has also incentivized its students to learn technical skills by awarding them IMPRESS points for completing tasks like getting a certification in Microsoft Excel proficiency. And by hearing from a range of intriguing speakers  — some of whom are Whitman alumni, some not — across the many fields of business, students get to hear how to become and remain successful.

Because Bloomberg only surveyed recent graduates and graduating seniors, this year’s student satisfaction ranking did not reflect all of the positive impacts that IMPRESS made on students. Even though it will take years for the effects of internal programs like IMPRESS to show up in surveys of graduates and graduating seniors, it will be well worth it.

The same could be said for improving core scheduling, as tailoring it to students and allowing them to explore more areas of academic interest can only benefit them in the long run.

Whitman’s associate dean of undergraduate programs, Amanda Nicholson, said there has already been a rise in accepted students planning to matriculate into Whitman this fall.

This growth will require greater consideration from Whitman administrators, prompting the school to continue to pay close attention to student well-being. So when Whitman is looking for ways to make the student experience better, it should look into customs like core scheduling to really ensure that students’ freedom is being taken into account.

As a dean of undergraduate students, Nicholson said she believes student satisfaction is the most important aspect of a school. If the students are happy, employers will notice that when speaking with them and everything else will fall into place.

“This is the business that we’re in. We’re in the business of students,” said Nicholson. “It starts with students and that should always be the main focus, and then you work on everything else.”

Nicholson makes a great point: if students are loving their time and their professional opportunities at Whitman, they will talk the school up to others as a great business school. At the end of the day, Whitman is a learning institution and it should aim to have the most enriching, complete effect on its students that it can.

Current students and graduates alike should be proud of Whitman. They’ve seen it rise to its current place as a top-ranked business school. The new innovative programs and curriculums in place have better prepared graduates to leave positive lasting impressions on employers and recruiters and Whitman has the capacity to take that graduates’ satisfaction to the next level by taking care of undergraduate life, too.

Even though Bloomberg will no longer be officially ranking undergraduate business schools, it is important for Whitman to continue pushing the bar — both by introducing those programs that give students a professional edge, but also making the experience of the school more enjoyable.

Hopefully, Whitman’s future strides for satisfaction before and after convocation will bring Otto and his dance moves to Whitman’s atrium again soon.

Sam Gozinsky is a freshman finance and public relations dual major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at slgozins@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @SamGozinsky.

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