O. Finley Graves: Transforming business education

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North Texas is home to some of the world’s top corporations and is a hub for small businesses and startups.

These companies depend on a high-quality workforce, and business graduates in particular are important to driving a company’s growth and innovation.

As one of the largest colleges of business in the nation with several top-ranked programs, the University of North Texas’ College of Business is focused on producing well-educated, highly qualified business professionals. We graduate more than 1,000 students a year in disciplines ranging from accounting to logistics. Our graduates lead and start businesses and help companies in the region and around the world thrive and grow.

Despite this success, we have asked ourselves one important question: How can we better prepare our graduates? And we thought who better to ask than the CEOs of some of the region’s top corporations.

With insight from a panel of eight area CEOs, UNT created a vision for a new model of business education that is transforming how and what we teach our students. From adding innovative courses to incorporating more job training and internships to making job placement a top priority, UNT’s College of Business is focused on giving our business graduates additional skills so they stand out in the marketplace. Our ultimate goal is to help our students be more successful so that UNT is the region’s leading source of work-ready graduates.

 

What we learned

Our CEO panel included G. Brint Ryan, chairman and CEO of Ryan LLC, who served as the panel’s chairman; Ralph W. Babb Jr., chairman and CEO of Comerica Inc. and Comerica Bank; Rhys J. Best, chairman, president and CEO of Seren Management LLC; Douglas H. Brooks, chairman of the board and president and CEO of Brinker International Inc.; Trevor Fetter, president and CEO of Tenet Healthcare; Karen Katz, president and CEO of the Neiman Marcus Group; Matthew K. Rose, chairman and CEO of BSNF; and David T. Seaton, chairman and CEO of Fluor Corp.

They told us that young business graduates in general have great discipline-specific knowledge. But when they enter the workforce, they lack the big picture of how the various business disciplines interrelate. Nor are they as savvy about leadership and teamwork as they could be, and many graduates must improve their “emotional intelligence” to excel in an organization.

Despite coming from different industries, the members of UNT’s CEO Visioning Panel want the same qualities in a business graduate. They want problem-solvers, risk-takers, leaders and diplomats — essentially, people who know business and who work well with people.

For example, Babb, the CEO of Comerica, echoed the others on the panel when he said graduates must have a feel for the culture of business, and internships are helpful in gaining that insight. He says the most successful business graduates know how to work well with teams and in a business environment.

As a college of business, we took that as a challenge to focus as much on our students’ professional development as we do on their academic education. So, we are making sure that our graduates are armed with real-world experience, understanding how both a business and a workplace operate.

 

What we are doing

To better prepare our graduates, UNT’s College of Business is investing more heavily in our students’ training to give them more of an edge.

We are taking a number of actions to transform our business education model by:

•  Investing in career services

•  Growing employer relationships

•  Promoting internships so all students benefit from real-world experience

•  Integrating more teamwork, cases and projects into the curriculum

•  Developing specialties in majors to respond to the job market

•  Securing national rankings to raise brand awareness

Overall, faculty members are changing and enhancing their curricula based on the Visioning Panel’s insights, while our career services personnel are focused more than ever on ensuring that our students have sound career training and preparation. Our goal is for at least 90 percent of our students to have jobs within three months of graduating.

We have a great foundation on which to build. We have 50 majors and concentrations, as well as distinguished faculty with real-world experience and industry insight. Students also benefit from studying in our new, cutting-edge Business Leadership Building, which promotes collaboration and innovation.

Many of our college’s programs are highly regarded. U.S. News & World Report ranks our online M.B.A. program 20th nationally for online graduate business programs, and the program has been recognized repeatedly as a “Best Buy.” After a rapid ascent, our logistics program, which ranks fifth globally based on faculty publishing, has become one of the nation’s leading logistics programs. One of its emerging concentrations, in turn, is aviation logistics, the first four-year aviation logistics program at a Texas public university and one of only two such programs in the U.S.

We are using this reboot as an opportunity to remind employers that our graduates — their employees — come from a quality business school and already are highly trained and well prepared. With our renewed focus on “soft” skills and professional development, things are only getting better.

O. FINLEY GRAVES is the dean of the College of Business at the University of North Texas.


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