Arkansas Tech University will debut its MBA program this fall, and it will feature an emphasis on data analytics, a curriculum path a school administrator said makes the program uniquely relevant in today’s professional environment.
“We wanted to be a little bit different in terms of the content for the program,” said Stephen Jones, associate dean of the College of Business. “There are a lot of vanilla MBAs out there that are just straight and traditional. That’s perfectly fine, but we wanted to marry that with data analysis.”
The school added the undergraduate data analytics program three years ago, and those students have been shown opportunities at Dillard’s, Wal-Mart Stores, Acxiom and HP, Jones said. “Everyone that comes out has the potential to get a really good job.”
Techopedia defines data analytics as the “qualitative and quantitative techniques and processes used to enhance productivity and business gain. Data is extracted and categorized to identify and analyze behavioral data and patterns, and techniques vary according to organizational requirements.”
“Data analytics is primarily conducted in business-to-consumer (B2C) applications. Global organizations collect and analyze data associated with customers, business processes, market economics or practical experience. Data is categorized, stored and analyzed to study purchasing trends and patterns,” according to Techopedia.
The decision to have add a data focus to the MBA program, he added, was based on “everything we are getting from business people. They want individuals who can look at number information or text information and write reports on it so management can make good decisions.”
In addition to classes on accounting, economics, marketing and management with a focus on executive decision-decision making, students will be required at the beginning of the MBA program to take a research methods course. From there, students will be expected to write analysis reports for subsequent classes.
“That’s a skill they’re going to be really good at,” Jones said.
Fifty students have applied and been accepted to the program, but about half have not enrolled yet. Their status is contingent on their passage of prerequisite modules required of non-business graduates.
The addition of an MBA degree is part of a broader expansion of ATU’s post-undergraduate offerings.
“The university is making a concerted effort to offer more graduate programs,” Jones said.
Although graduate courses have been around at ATU since 1976, participation in the programs has seen a marked increase in recent years. Director of university relations Samuel Strasner said graduate enrollment grew 58% between 2008 and 2016, reaching 841 students last year. The first recipients of the ATU Doctor of Education degree, the first doctoral program offered by the university, graduated in May. The school now offers 25 other graduate programs, including master’s degrees in nursing, engineering, history, information technology and psychology.
In terms of the MBA degree specifically, the concept had been in the works for a while, Jones said.
One group driving that conversation was “my alumni,” he said. “Prior to the new program they had to go somewhere else for an MBA. I was hounded by them, in a positive (way). They really wanted to come back here.”
During the school’s last accreditation process, the business school asked for the numbers to be crunched to gauge if the program could work. From there, the administration surveyed the public.
“We got in touch with our alumni — the broader alumni, not just business graduates — with business leaders, with others in the community,” Jones said.
The question was not just whether ATU needed and could support an MBA program, but also what the community thought it should look like. The results were clear, Jones said: the community “overwhelmingly” wanted an online curriculum. Many MBA candidates work full-time and want a more convenient option that allows them to be with their families, he said. The approach made sense for ATU, which might not be able to feed a substantial face-to-face program. It’s located in Russellville, where the population is 29,166, according to 2015 U.S. Census estimates.
“We’re an hour away from other places,” Jones said. “We’re not like Fayetteville or Little Rock, where you might have people living 10 minutes away waiting to take a program, creating a steady stream of students.”
Russellville does, however, have access to certain industries that hold the potential for future MBA concentration additions, he added. For example, it is home to the state’s only nuclear plant, and it has facilities for ConAgra Foods and Bridgestone tires.
It will be a while before the administration eyes expansion, though, Jones said.
“Maybe in a year, a year and a half, when the program is running and running well, we can start looking at who else we can serve.”
The head of that process will be Lisa Toms, who will take on the role of dean for the business college on July 1. Toms is the former dean of the Rankin College of Business at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia.
“She’s going to help us shape any future directions that we take,” Jones said.