I started my position as the dean of the James M. Hull College of Business at Augusta University in February 2017. The first time I met with our faculty, I told them that while we were indeed a business school, they should also think of us as a business.
Although most institutions of higher education, particularly state institutions such as AU, are nonprofits, they have goals that are similar to those at for-profit businesses. For instance, the taxpayers and legislators of the state of Georgia are equivalent to the investors of for-profit firms for University System of Georgia institutions such as AU.
As such, the taxpayers and legislature expect these institutions to provide a good return on investment for the funds provided to them. As I have spent almost 20 years in USG institutions, with more than 16 of those years as a business school administrator, I take that ROI obligation quite seriously.
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One way of providing my “investors” with a robust ROI is to serve an increasing number of students given the funds that I am provided, which translates into higher enrollments in Hull College programs. Even more important than these enrollments is that once the students graduate, they contribute to the economy of Georgia in general and in the Augusta area in particular.
Institutions of higher education are engines of economic development for states and communities, and business schools in particular are key sources of workforce development. In the Augusta area, that means supporting key industries such as healthcare, cybersecurity and the departments of Defense and Energy of the federal government.
AU is one of 26 institutions in the University System and each of those institutions has one or more business programs. When I arrived at AU, I realized that our business programs were redundant with many other programs in the portfolio of the system’s business programs. Therefore, I felt changes were necessary to distinguish AU/Hull from the other business schools and to provide appropriate ROI to the taxpayers and legislators of Georgia.
In 2017, the Hull College offered five basic undergraduate business programs that you would find in many business schools: bachelor of business administration (BBA) programs in accounting, management, marketing, finance and management information systems. While these programs were of high quality and affordable, so were similar ones at the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Kennesaw State University and Georgia Southern University, business schools that are much larger with stronger brands than Hull.
Therefore, we were evaluating our competitors, like any good business would. In order to provide more value to the state and local area, we redesigned our undergraduate BBA curriculum to be more in line with our local economy and workforce and differentiate ourselves from those other institutions. We had to follow the business axiom of differentiating ourselves from our competition.
We first decided to retain our BBA in accounting, as this is a necessary program in any business school to support local workforce needs. However, in addition to accounting, the leadership and faculty of the Hull College worked together to combine our four non-accounting programs into a single BBA program with a unique core and a series of concentrations tailored for the local and state economies.
Our first step in this process was to meet with local business leaders to determine what skill sets our students lacked so that we can improve our curriculum accordingly. This was analogous to a business soliciting input from its customers, as it is our local businesses who hire our students (our products!).
These meetings resulted us in creating a unique set of core courses that included professional selling, project management and a required internship. Sales, project management and the work experience gained through a required internship have enabled us to provide local and state employers with a workforce with the skills they need.
In addition to redesigning our core, we created concentrations that better aligned with the needs of the Augusta area and the state of Georgia. Instead of a generic management degree, we have a concentration in healthcare management, a significant part of our local economy. We also have distinctive concentrations in digital marketing, financial services, and applied economic analysis, which line up with the needs of our area and the state.
We have also given our students the flexibility to design their own concentrations in order to respond to changing needs in the marketplace. When the chair of accreditation team that will be evaluating us in October came for a pre-visit, he commended us for our outstanding work in creating a curriculum that is responsive to the local economy.
While we are happy with the progress we have made with our undergraduate curriculum, we are not stopping there. In order to be more responsive to our local community, we are also making additions to our graduate portfolio. We have been approved to offer a health care management concentration within our MBA program to better serve myriad health care professionals in this area.
In addition, we are working with AU’s School of Computer and Cyber Sciences to develop a program designed primarily for Army officers and civilians, defense contractors and other technologists that will result in a master’s degree encompassing management and technology. We see this as a great program for junior officers at Fort Gordon’s Signal and Cyber Corps (more customers!) and our growing cyber community.
Finally, beyond our degree programming, we are also offering project management professional education for those who wish to become project management professionals.
In the past few years, the Hull College of Business has not been acting solely as a business school, but also as a business. We have evaluated our competition, queried our customers, and assessed our markets in order to develop programming that will provide more value to its most important customers, the taxpayers of state of Georgia.
By behaving like a business, we are practicing what we preach and providing a great return on investment for you and your fellow Georgians!
The writer is the dean of Augusta University’s Hull College of Business.