Business education Featured

7:00pm EDT February 28, 2007

Executive education is crucial to staying on the front end of the business world today. Scenarios have unfolded over the past decade that have changed the rules and the laws.

For some, traditional advanced-degree educational programs are often not the answer, says Larry Bell, managing director of the executive education programs at Coles College of Kennesaw State University. Busy business professionals need courses that are more flexible to register for and attend, and nondegree programs are the answer.

Smart Business spoke with Bell about what these nondegree programs can offer and how professionals can take advantage of them to stay on the cutting edge of the business world.

How important is it for business executives today to further their education?

The business world is changing quickly, and to remain competitive executives must find efficient ways to keep ahead of the curve. As an example, our EMBA curriculum in 2000 had less than 10 classroom hours dedicated to the subject of ‘ethics in business.’ Similarly, since the law hadn’t been enacted, there was no understanding of things like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and other devices used by regulators and law-makers to address some of the scandals that erupted in the early part of this decade. Seven years later each unit in the MBA program addresses the ethical implications of the subject.

Executives need to stay on the front end of these topics, and often a traditional advanced degree educational program is not immediate enough to be the best answer. Certificate-type and noncredit executive education programs are increasingly complementing degree programs to fill the gap between real-world learning in the workplace and the academic classroom environment.

What’s the difference between degree and nondegree-type programs?

When you’re discussing degree programs, you’re talking about a series of related courses that result in the student achieving an academic degree. Generally, MBA programs and the business schools/colleges that house them are accredited by international accreditation organizations, such as the AACSB. There are generally four forms of delivery: full time, part time, Web-based and executive MBA, which is the fastest-growing format for delivery in the U.S. At times, these formats are combined to better serve the students.

Students apply for admission to the graduate business schools and meet entrance requirements, which may include a review of undergraduate transcripts, a GMAT test and a faculty interview prior to being accepted in that business school. In all these traditional programs, there’s a faculty assigned and a curriculum. Also, students have a syllabus and study in classrooms or using distance-learning techniques like the Web. Grading schemes may differ from program to program, but in general students receive A- through F-type grades, with graduate work requiring an A or B for the student to remain in good standing. Standard tuition or premium tuitions may apply.

Nondegree and certificate-type programs are more flexible for many executives in that they can be offered in a more expedited fashion and don’t generally have admission requirements as stringent as a degree program’s. In fact, the delivering organization may not be directly associated with an accredited college.

Certificate programs also have a more focused curriculum, perhaps addressing several related topics over several days. They’re generally priced at market rates, and range in price from several hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. These programs are often taught at ‘destination’ universities, conference centers or resorts that can dramatically increase the cost of attending.

What sort of nondegree programs exist?

There’s one I recently developed and implemented with Dr. Mike Salvador and Dean Tim Mescon for a Fortune 10-type global firm for their inside professional sales center in the Atlanta area. The firm had two challenges it wanted to address and asked if higher education might be able to help. The first challenge related to wanting to ‘up-scope’ the capabilities of its professional inside sales teams, enabling them to better converse with C-level executives to whom they were marketing complex solutions over the phone. Additionally, the firm wanted to simultaneously address the age-old challenge of associate loyalty and ‘churn’ in the marketplace.

Our solution was what we call a ‘Masters Certificate,’ which utilizes traditional graduate level-type courseware (like financial and managerial accounting, marketing management, supply chain and human capital investment) in conjunction with some customization. Additionally, for associates who enjoy the experience and want to continue their adult learning experience in a degree-seeking mode, we built a bridge for those achieving the certificate to apply for formal admission to the business school and complete their MBA in our Career Growth (part-time) program.

LARRY BELL is managing director of the executive education programs at Coles College of Kennesaw State University. Reach him at (770) 420-4622.