USF Sarasota-Manatee's MBA program to include online classes.

USF Sarasota-Manatee MBA program evolves, looks to add online classes

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: December 21, 2016

SARASOTA, Fla. (Dec. 21, 2016) USF Sarasota-Manatee’s MBA program has evolved from when it relied on borrowed classrooms and faculty, and now the program is poised for even greater change through new online instruction.

Since inception of the program in 2003, students have sacrificed their Saturdays to squeeze in the rigorous course content. Now, the MBA program is adding online classes available at any time to reach a wider audience who work Saturdays, including those wanting more flexibility in their schedules.

USF Sarasota-Manatee MBA program evolves, looks to online classes

Dr. James Curran, dean of the College of Business

“We’re trying to organize the classes so you don’t have to spend all day in the classroom. The idea moving forward is to have one online course available to them” to shorten their time on campus, College of Business Dean Dr. James Curran said.

The move will happen gradually after two online courses – basic courses in accounting, finance and information systems along with a higher-level course in business valuation – were introduced this past summer.

For the spring semester, look for a finance course to go online as well – but don’t expect the entire program to go high-tech: “There is still a lot of value to taking courses face-to-face in the classroom and interacting directly with the other students,” Dr. Curran said.

The changes are the latest in a series of steps to accommodate students who are already deep into their careers. Two years ago, the college removed the GMAT/GRE standardized test requirement for some students seeking admittance. Under the change, students who posted a 3.0 GPA or higher in their undergraduate coursework can register for the program provided they maintain a 3.25 GPA for two semesters.

Many colleges are making similar accommodations for high-achieving students who’ve demonstrated success in the classroom and workplace.

“What this did was remove a major obstacle,” Dr. Curran said. “It costs money to take the GRE and GMAT and you have to set aside time to prepare for the tests. When we looked at that, we found the requirement was preventing people from entering the program.”

USF Sarasota-Manatee MBA program evolves, looks to online classes

Jeff Maultsby, a 2012 MBA alum.

Students can sign up for the General MBA track or an MBA with an accounting track to prepare for the CPA exam. Classes are held on campus, 8350 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota.

“Like anything of value, the program was not easy, however the faculty, staff and most importantly, my fellow students were always there to assist,” said Jeff Maultsby, a 2012 alum and director of business and economic development for Sarasota County. “It was two years well-spent, learning, accomplishing my goal and making lifelong friendships.”

Jeff Benninghoff, who earned his MBA in 2007, said the degree helped him ascend the media corporate ladder from vice president of finance to vice president/broadcast at Calkins Media Inc. He also serves as general manager of WWSB ABC 7 in Sarasota.

USF Sarasota-Manatee MBA program evolves, looks to online classes

Jeff Benninghoff, a 2007 MBA grad.

“By taking the program it showed my company I was willing to invest in myself to gain additional skills the company needed to thrive in the ever-increasing competitive environment our industry is faced with,” Benninghoff said. “Shortly after completing the MBA program, I received a number of promotions that got me where I am today.”

USF Sarasota-Manatee’s MBA program has graduated more than 200 to become a model to emulate, but its roots are humble, starting with borrowed classrooms at New College of Florida, which is next door to USFSM, and borrowed faculty from USF in Tampa.

Then-Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs Peter French wanted to enhance the College of Business in 2003 when he proposed a Masters of Business Administration degree. Local companies were on board to see the venture succeed, but because USFSM didn’t possess enough business professors to staff the program, it was forced to seek help from USF’s College of Business in Tampa. The college agreed to supply faculty, but under the condition that at least 25 students enroll.

That was enough encouragement for French, who notified chambers of commerce, newspapers and business organizations in a broad push to attract students. About 30 enrolled that first year. But another obstacle soon emerged: where to hold the all-day Saturday classes.

Dr. French remembered the students’ lukewarm response when they saw their first option: an aged classroom at New College. He resolved to upgrade to a nicer space and found one at Arthur Andersen in Sarasota, but months later the accounting company was foundering and the program was forced to relocate.

Enter Sarasota accountant Charles Baumann, a USF alumnus and accountant at Kerkering, Barberio & Co. Baumann, a member of the board of directors at FCCI Insurance Group in Lakewood Ranch, helped broker an agreement to allow USFSM to use classroom space at FCCI. That agreement held for two years until USFSM opened its campus in 2006, providing a permanent home for the program.

Like USFSM, the MBA program has experienced several incarnations. It still runs on Saturdays, but the program is spread over 20 months instead of 30 and follows the traditional fall, spring and summer semester schedule. Students can sign up at any time.

In addition to serving as dean, Dr. Curran teaches an MBA marketing class, which gets him out of the office and in front of students. He enjoys the interaction and encourages his students to learn from each other as well as from the instructional content.

This collaborative environment, a hallmark of the program, continues through the first year when students engage in courses from marketing to economics to applied analytics, and into the second year when the focus shifts to their capstone projects.

“MBAs are a good group and come with a life experience you don’t typically see in undergraduate students,” Dr. Curran said. “They bring experiences from the business world. You can really engage with them about business topics. It’s a creative, collaborative learning environment.”

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