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When 32-year-old Mary Armstrong moved to Colorado in 2012, she knew getting a college degree would be a necessary step towards advancing her career. Armstrong, then 29, took an entry-level position with McNichols Co., a Denver-based steel distributor, and eventually began taking online classes at Colorado State University-Global Campus, graduating with a bachelor’s in business management in June 2016.

The decision to go back to school did for Armstrong what it does for many young, working professionals. It helped her get to the next level in her career, rising from an entry-level office administrator to her current title of sales team lead.

“I decided I really wanted more, and if a piece of paper was the only thing preventing me from doing it, I was going to go back to school,” Armstrong said.

That same philosophy is why Armstrong will now pursue a master’s of business administration degree.

“I want to be in management and a lot of employers prefer to have MBAs,” she said. “I know if it came to me and another person, if I had a MBA, I would get that second look before the other person.”

Armstrong, like many others, was drawn to Denver because it is consistently rated among the best cities for young professionals to find a job and to live. Millennials now make up about 16 percent of Denver’s population, among the 10 cities with the highest share of young workers.

And the high and growing number of millennials means more local universities are overhauling their MBA programs to compete and cater to their needs. In the last few years, several local institutions have launched MBA programs for the first time. Johnson & Wales, for example, in 2013 started an 18-month hybrid program to draw in MBA seekers. And classes for Metropolitan State University of Denver’s new MBA program will begin in January 2017.

Other schools — like Regis University, the University of Denver and Colorado State University — have overhauled or added to their MBA programs, including creating more specialty master’s programs to cater to young metro Denverites seeking the master’s distinction, but for whom the traditional MBA doesn’t quite fit.

Brian McDonald, a senior vice president at Charles Schwab Corp. and a key hiring executive there, said while having a MBA is a bonus, it’s not necessarily a requirement for promotion. But employees at Schwab — which employs 3,000 of its 14,500 nationwide workforce in Centennial — are encouraged to get MBAs to grow on a personal level.

“Individuals are on the balls of their feet as they continue to think about themselves and advancing for growth,” McDonald said. “Most of our employees are focused on personal growth and development.”

But many of Schwab’s employees who have sought a MBA over the years have had difficulty making sense of their options and knowing which program works well for them, he added.

“For anyone considering a MBA, they need to think about where they want to be, and to think longer than the length of the MBA, and ask themselves how does it fit,” McDonald said.

For Armstrong, the right MBA means one that is flexible with her job and one that teaches her things she can apply in the real world the minute she goes to work.

“The real world is not black and white. All the key strategies you learn [in a classroom] … you can manipulate them to work in real-life situations, but you don’t understand the full process until you operate in the real world. And that’s important in a MBA,” she said.

Here, the DBJ takes a look at eight prominent local schools and the MBA programs they offer.

Metropolitan State University of Denver College of Business
MBA programs offered: Master’s of Professional Accountancy; MBA
Concentrations: Accounting; strategic business; business analytics
Cost: Master’s of Professional Accountancy: $3,658 per semester (includes tuition + fees) for a full-time student. Total cost to graduation is $16,000. MBA: $3,658 (includes tuition + fees) for a full-time student. Total cost to graduation is $19,200.
Fall 2015 graduates (of Master’s of Professional Accountancy): 124
Classes in MSU Denver’s MBA program will begin for the first time this January, launching a degree program that university officials hope will serve a specific need in Colorado.

“The emphasis at MSU Denver right now is on master’s,” said Ann Murphy, dean of its s College of Business. “We wanted to help lower-income students…to help them get a higher-paying job.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical worker with a master’s degree earns 20 percent more than one with a bachelor’s degree, and a staggering 98 percent more than workers who never go to college.

MSU Denver’s new MBA program is the realization of a task force that was put together last year to help MSU Denver better serve its target demographic: first-generation college students who are low-income or non-traditional.

MSU Denver is currently working towards becoming a member of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, a designation that requires that at least 25 percent of the student population be Hispanic and that will open the door for additional grants.

“Thirty percent of Denver is Hispanic, so it’s a natural fit for us to serve that population,” Murphy said.

It’s that push that Murphy said is why receiving accreditation for its MBA program from the Higher Learning Commission earlier this year was so important to the university’s mission and will help them compete.

“We think the market for a MBA program is large enough that everyone has a space to fit…with everyone having it’s own target, we’re really focused on that area,” Murphy said. “Everybody offers students different options. Our pricing, our affordability, when you take the value and experience together, we’ll be able to compete.”

Johnson & Wales
MBA programs offered: 18-month MBA
hybrid (2013)
Concentrations/specializations: Hospitality; traditional; nonprofit management; human resources management; operations & supply chain management (coming 2017).
Cost: $4,100/trimester (includes tuition + fees) for a full-time student. Total to graduation: $24,600
2016 graduates: 21.

Johnson & Wales has long been known as the go-to specialty school for people looking to a career in hospitality and culinary skills. But since 2013, the Denver campus has been building a reputation of a different kind: A school that also works directly with local businesses to produce MBA graduates with skills in exactly what both the students and the businesses are looking for.

“We looked at what industry said is important in hitting the road running when [students] graduate,” said Letta Campbell, chair of Johnson & Wales’ MBA programs. “We found we needed to build the curriculum around what business needed.”

Frequent meetings with business leaders and discussions around that philosophy has shaped the MBA curriculum at Johnson & Wales.

“We bring in industry speakers, people who are really well-known, particularly in those specialties,” Campbell said. “The curriculum is designed to get them ready for that career.”

Richard Wiscott, who just took over as Johnson & Wales campus president in April, said that approach to education, along with the school’s price point, has made it appealing to people seeking MBAs.

“We purposely created a graduate structure to make it affordable,” Wiscott said, adding that Johnson & Wales’ 18-month hybrid model allows students to get through the program more quickly by offering two courses per trimester.

And the fact that metro Denver appeals to out-of-state MBA seekers doesn’t hurting either. “People look for Colorado as much as they look at the reputation of the institution itself. It’s a big selling point for us,” Campbell said.

University of Denver Daniels College of Business

MBA programs offered: Denver MBA; Executive MBA; Part-time professional MBA
Concentrations/specializations/certifications: Accounting; business analytics; finance; marketing; real estate and the built environment; customized
Cost: Executive MBA: $14,800/quarter (includes tuition + fees) for a full-time student. Total to graduation: $88,800. One-year MBA: $11,857/quarter (includes tuition + fees) for a full-time student. Total to graduation: $82,999. Part-time professional MBA: $10,903/quarter (includes tuition + fees) for a full-time student;.Total to graduation: $87,224
2016 graduates: 163

DU’s Daniels College of Business has created a new MBA curriculum it believes is unlike almost any other.

Starting fall 2016, two-year residency MBA students will no longer spend the majority of their time in the classroom. Instead, they’ll take part in a 21-month program that has four sets of 10-week-long “challenges,” where they will work closely with faculty and spend limited time in the classroom.

The challenges will require them to create their own business product, work with agencies to develop business plans that support charitable causes, work directly with major Colorado employers, and spend 15 weeks in a foreign country working with businesses there. Students will spend the final five weeks of the program reflecting and engaged in an intensive leadership module.

“There’s no question that there’s core knowledge…but the center of gravity are the course experiences,” said Brent Chrite, dean of the Daniels College of Business. “We have intentionally gravitated away from [the classroom] because the core experience is not in the classroom, it’s in the marketplace.”

“The world is increasingly defined by entrepreneurship. … Many business schools haven’t kept up. Many are trying to prepare students for a 21st century marketplace using a 19th century education,” Chrite said. “

The new curriculum is particularly interesting given DU’s history — Daniels College of Business is one of the nation’s eight original business schools and has one of the longest-running executive MBA programs, Chrite said. And it’s the school’s history that makes DU leaders want to set the tone for a new kind of experience for MBA students.

Chrite said the model is also being closely supported by local businesses, who will work with the school to provide job training, internships and help create classroom curriculum through student projects that cost about $10,000.

“They’re saying because they know us, they know engaging our students in real world…projects is how they learn and develop,” Chrite said. “They also know this is a way they gain early-access to talent.”

University of Colorado-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business
MBA programs offered: Full-time MBA, executive MBA
Cost: $9,900/semester (includes tuition + fees) for a full-time student. Total to graduation: $39,600. Part-time: $8,300/semester (includes tuition + fees) for six semesters. Total to graduation: $49,800.
2016 graduates: 109

The greatest selling point of CU-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business, its leaders believe, is that the Boulder campus is generally ranked as one of the top public universities in the region.

“We just happen to be located in a remote part of the country compared to an East or West Coast [institution],” said David Ikenberry, Leeds’ dean. “That’s a key selling point for our daytime program [for] young 20-somethings.”

The full-time MBA program at Leeds consists of intensive coursework combined with “challenges” that require students to develop new products and consult with businesses.

“That’s our target market and our target student,” Ikenberry said. “We’re looking for students who are comfortable with that level of learning.”

Ikenberry said while the core curriculum at Leeds has remained stable, the electives have increased substantially. In the last year, CU-Boulder introduced four specialized programs in supply chain management, finance, real estate and data analytics.

“Data analytics … is exploding right now,” Ikenberry said. “I think you’re seeing a lot of companies, they don’t know what the tiger is but they definitely have their hand on the tail. The power that these techniques can deliver is still in its infancy.”

The executive MBA program follows the traditional format in that it asks students, often working professionals, to complete some of their coursework online and some in the classroom.

Leeds has seen a 5.2 percent increase in year-over-year applications in the past three years, and Ikenberry said he thinks they will grow as metro Denver continues to grow.

“Colorado’s in our name. So that’s pretty straightforward to sell,” Ikenberry said.

Colorado State University-Global Campus,
Greenwood Village
MBA programs offered: Master’s in Management
Concentrations/specializations: Accounting;
applied business management; business intelligence; finance; healthcare administration; human
resource management; human resource performance; international management; organizational leadership and change management; organizational learning and performance; project management; strategic innovation and change management.
Cost: $4,100/trimester (includes tuition + fees) for a full-time student. Total to graduation: $24,600
2015 graduates: 106

CSU-Global Campus — a part of the CSU System that offers accredited online degrees — may not have a formal MBA program, but it does have a master’s program that competes for the same kinds of students with its Master’s in Management program: Young, working professionals, typically in their late 20s or early 30s and beyond, said Provost Jon Bellum.

And they may even find the curriculum is even more applicable to their lives than a MBA, he added.

“The idea that a student would be writing a paper just to write a paper wouldn’t work for our students,” Bellum said. “That’s why our curriculum has been designed around tapping their experience in their current workplace to solve problems.”

CSU-Global’s Master’s in Management program is fully online and asks students to solve real-world dilemmas that might arise in their workplace that they can then carry with them immediately into their career.

The approach is a significant change from what CSU-Global had in place just a few years ago. At that time, students were asked to complete an applied research project, much like a thesis. After research and discussions with local industry leaders, Bellum said the school decided to change the curriculum so that students had a choice instead.

“Instead of writing a paper or researching what’s going on in other businesses, these assignments ask students to find a solution in their own workplace and begin the research there,” Bellum said. For example, students might be asked to come up with a solution on how to implement a new, company-wide project.

The approach makes CSU-Global stand out from competitors, Bellum added. “In a lot of MBA programs, they don’t get that deep. They look at what’s trending in leadership material, what’s popular, and use that,” he said. “We think that’s a nice place to start … but you as consumer need to understand what’s driving it and why it’s best for your workplace.”

And the approach seems to be resonating with Colorado professionals seeking a MBA-like degree. The program has grown 33 percent since 2011.

“We’ve worked hard to create a program that produces real decision-makers, folks who can look at complex data and really make the well-informed decision,” Bellum said.

University of Colorado-Denver’s Business School

MBA programs offered: Professional MBA; 11-month MBA; Executive MBA; Health Administration MBA; Executive MBA in Health Administration
Concentrations/specializations/certifications: Accounting; bio-innovation and entrepreneurship; business analytics; business intelligence; business strategy; change management;
commodities; enterprise technology management; entrepreneurship; finance; human resources management; information systems; international business; leadership; managing for sustainability; marketing; risk management and insurance; sports and entertainment
management; taxation.
Cost: 11 Month MBA (2016-2017) — $42,500/11 months and to graduation for a full-time student. Executive MBA in Health Administration: $14,000/semester. Total to graduation: $56,000. Professional MBA and the Health Administration MBA: $571/credit hour for residents (+ fees). Total to graduation: $27,408. Executive MBA: Part-time: $8,300/semester (includes tuition + fees) for six semesters; Total to graduation: $49,800.
2016 graduates: 313

One of the biggest contributing factors to the future success of CU Denver’s Business School in competing with other MBA programs will be its close connection to area businesses, its leaders say.

“[We] are proud to have the strongest relationships with business and with the community in metro Denver,” said Dawn Gregg, associate dean of programs and director of the MBA programs at the CU Denver Business School. “All told, we have more than 300 industry and business professionals working with the business school.”

To develop curriculum for its MBA programs, Gregg said CU Denver works closely with businesses and has frequent open discussions about what each industry is looking for.

Those relationships have contributed to the development of many new programs at CU Denver, such as the J.P Morgan Center for Commodities, the Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship and the Center for Information Technology. Students are able to leverage those centers to earn specializations in their MBA that fit within the industry they’re seeking employment.

“From an employer perspective, the school delivers by working key industry leaders to keep the curriculum relevant, to develop necessary financial support and to provide internships and jobs,” Gregg said.

CU Denver’s relationships with the business community are also a significant contributing factor to how it recruits new students, Gregg added.

“We know that Denver is a place that people want to live and work, because of our lifestyle and our booming economy,” she said. “We leverage our urban campus in the heart of downtown by offering students a direct connection to business leaders in industries that are important to the state of Colorado.”

Colorado State University

MBA programs offered: Professional MBA; Online professional (formerly “Distance”) MBA; Executive MBA; Global Social Sustainable Enterprise MBA; Early Career MBA.
Concentrations/specializations/certifications: Accounting ethics and auditing; applied finance; business information systems; business intelligence; information technology project management; marketing management.
Cost: Professional MBA: $8,751/semester (includes tuition + fees) for a full-time student, Total to graduation: $40,097. Online MBA: $8,287/semester (includes tuition + fees) for a full-time student. Total to graduation: $39,177. Executive MBA: $13,440/semester (includes tuition + fees) for a full-time student. Total to graduation: $67,200. Global Social Sustainable Enterprise MBA: $11,324/semester (includes tuition + fees) for a full-time student. Total to graduation: $35,022. Early Career MBA: $9,699/semester (includes tuition + fees) for a full-time student; Total to graduation: $41,130.
2016 graduates: 313

Besides having the largest number of MBA students in the state (more than 1,000), CSU has numerous MBA programs, including one that caters exclusively to students who are interested in getting a MBA before jumping into a career.

Its Early Career MBA program, launched in 2013, is CSU’s fastest-growing, said Beth Walker, dean of CSU’s College of Business.

“It’s exciting and growing. The Early Career MBA is an exceptional graduate program … in an area where they might not have many jobs [available],” Walker said, citing biology as an example. “They would benefit from getting their MBA and building that business background … that they can then use to leverage to get that job that might combine business and biology.”

CSU also overhauled its executive MBA program into what it’s calling a “blended” program, catering to working adult professionals by combining 60 percent face-to-face in-class sessions with 40 percent of its learning online. That program will start fall 2016.

“We’re doing that to accommodate the change in the workforce,” said Jill Terry, CSU director of executive programs. “There’s so many people who are traveling…along with the growth in Denver.”

The overhauled executive MBA program also has a specific focus on entrepreneurship and classes with lesson plans that mirror real-world situations.

“We’ve seen growth in numbers and depth of experience, people with more experience, people who have had more significant careers … 20-plus years of experience,” Terry said of the reason for changing the curriculum. “It’s a very rich and diverse classroom and what that leads to is this new model.”

Terry added that CSU’s massive alumni network will play a big role in continuing to help the university compete as more and more MBA programs catering to metro Denver residents and professionals enter the space.

“Our alumni are loyal and they love to support the program,” she said. “When I have someone looking at different programs, that alum will be a much better person to respond to their questions than I am.”

Regis University’s College of Business & Economics

MBA program offered: MBA
Concentrations/specializations: General MBA; finance and accounting; health industry leadership; marketing; operations management; strategic management
Cost: $2,430/course for a full-time student. Total to graduation: $29,160
2016 graduates: 226.

Regis University’s College of Business & Economics, which was started in the 2015-16 school year, is still in its infancy. But already it’s laying the groundwork for a new model for MBAs, one where the general MBA takes the back-burner to master’s programs with specific specializations.

And even while other Colorado universities are launching MBA programs, Regis is dialing it back and replacing it with “specialty master’s,” a degree with particular industry tags associated with it, such as a MBA in strategic management, a MBA in health industry leadership or a MBA in marketing, for example.

“There’s data that shows a decline in [the popularity of] MBA programs,” said Regis Dean Tim Keane, referring to research conducted by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business showing that the total number of MBA programs during the 2013-14 school year saw a decline, but that “Master’s Specialist” programs saw a 142 percent increase.

“Some contributing factors are younger generations are less enamored with business than previous generations were,” Keane said.

That trend was something Regis wanted to get ahead of. Before the 2015-16 school year, the school’s MBA programs were housed in the College of Professional Studies. Keane, who was hired to move all the business programs to the new College of Business & Economics, said Regis moved its MBA programs and concentrations outside the umbrella of the liberal arts-focused College of Professional Studies and shifted its approach to targeting people already in professional careers.

Before, the university had targeted people from all over the world for its online programs. Now, it’s focusing more on the metro area. And to cater to those individuals, Regis has adjusted the curriculum at the new College of Business & Economics by creating MBAs with very specific concentrations.

“They’ll be able to take the MBA and get a specialty in finance, for example,” he said. “We’ll also break out specialties into specialties of their own, like a master’s in HR, a master’s in nonprofit management, a master’s in accounting — those are all interim steps where we’ll accept earlier career people.”

And as a Roman Catholic Jesuit school, Regis has a unique position in Denver’s MBA space in that the programs come with a specific ethical approach, Keane said. “Our mission is to help businesses become stewards of society, not just make money.”