Illinois State University’s College of Business has a long history of success and looking back over the past year, it is clear to see that once again Redbirds have much to celebrate. The following are a few of the recent accolades received by programs in the business school:
Accounting program provides best value in the state
College Factual’s 2019 rankings applauded the ISU Accounting department for providing a quality program at an affordable price. A total of 601 programs were reviewed nationwide.
“We are very honored to be named the Best Accounting Program for the Money in Illinois and 14th nationally,” said Deborah Seifert, department chair. “This achievement can be attributed to three aspects. We have an updated curriculum, offering data analytics and forensic accounting, while still providing excellent preparation for the CPA exam. We have an excellent, international faculty, who provide a student-focused education. We also have dedicated alumni donors who provide scholarships and professional opportunities for our students.”
As the department chair indicated, the accounting faculty is made up of high caliber educators whose commitment to continual improvement and creating the best classroom experience for students can be seen in their focus on professional development.
Last year, they logged an average of 24 hours each pursuing educator training opportunities, such as workshops on improving online classes, at the on-campus Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT). In recognition of this achievement, the department received a second place Path to Excellence Award at a Teaching and Learning Symposium in January.
Seifert applauded her colleagues for this group effort and noted they continually strive for excellence. Some of the accounting faculty members also serve as master teachers at CTLT where they lead classes for their peers to learn teaching strategies.
The success of the department is also evident in its dedication to preparing graduate level students for the Certified Public Accounting (CPA) exam.
The national pass rate is typically 50 percent or less, reported Seifert, but ISU graduate students achieved a pass rate of 70.4 percent, according to the 2017 report from the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA). This was the third highest pass rate in Illinois for graduate level CPA candidates.
Insurance and Risk Management named a Top Performer
In a 2018 article in Best’s Review entitled “College Standouts,” the insurance rating agency AM Best sought to determine where companies in the insurance industry find their new talent. The magazine examined online survey responses from 272 industry professionals and gleaned information from interviews with 28 corporate hiring managers.
When the results were tallied ISU was named one of four Top Performers, along with Florida State University, Temple University and University of Georgia.
“The Top Performers share some common traits that resonated with respondents and set them apart from the pack,” noted the article. “Graduates of those programs possess a ‘deep understanding of the insurance industry’ and have a ‘shorter learning curve,’ respondents said, allowing them to make an impact on the organization more quickly.”
When interviewed by the magazine Katie School of Insurance and Risk Management director James Jones referred to bringing industry into the classroom as “the most critical part of student development” and emphasized the importance of connecting concepts learned in the classroom with the real world. To do this the ISU program helps students find internships and hosts a variety of lunch-and-learn workshops, company visits, and campus speakers.
The magazine explained that when hiring college graduates, employers in the industry seek candidates who display not only academic knowledge but also “professional etiquette, sales skills, and time management.”
The section on ISU described the Katie School as “the intersection of theory and practice” where these traits come together.
Jones noted one of ISU’s strengths is helping students to understand the different careers available within the field of insurance so they gain “a very specific idea of how their skills line up with the needs of the industry.”
“I think the other advantage is the students are leaving here with an understanding of what kind of career they’re going to have. They leave here with a big network, both with alumni and other employers,” he said.
In addition to being well-connected, Jones observed ISU insurance students graduate with a “big picture perspective,” have hands-on experience and demonstrate a hardworking attitude.
He credited the program’s advisory board with helping to keep up with industry trends and “develop students at the speed of change.”
“We’re never done. There’s no status quo acceptance here,” he continued. “We know that things are changing, so I think our role here is to connect both our students and the faculty with industry people who are working on cutting edge things so that they understand what the issues are.”
In this way, the program can focus on the current environment of the industry rather than covering merely the history of business as it seeks to prepare students for moving forward into their careers.
As Jones told AM Best, “We always want to keep improving.”
International Business spotlighted for providing student opportunities
ISU recently ranked fourth out of the top 50 international business programs in a nationwide list compiled by Study.com
The website, which designed the guide to help prospective students learn about the offerings at various schools, gathered input from current students and recent alumni through an online survey. When determining the rankings, it also considered such factors as available academic and career resources, the quality of the faculty and the range of opportunities available for program participants.
The online Study.com guide credited ISU with providing “unique study abroad and real-world experience opportunities” and for helping to prepare students “to be competitive in the job market.”
When asked to describe what she feels makes the ISU program stand out from the pack, Barbara Ribbens, director of the Carson and Iris Varner International Business Institute, pointed to the flexibility offered to students to help them pursue their goals and interests.
“We work hard to help them design their choices to move into careers that are successful and meet their goals,” she said. “I also think (the program) is a bit smaller and thus more personal than some of the other programs here.”
She also applauded the scope of the ISU program and credited the leadership of its founders, Carson and Iris Varner, with building a strong foundation for the International Business degree.
“The Varners designed a really good program, so it is really quite easy for me to just keep things updated and moving forward,” she said.
Thanks to a generous financial gift by the program’s founders, the Institute will soon have a new home within the College of Business. The former graduate student lounge on the third floor of the State Farm Hall of Business is being renovated into a suite for the International Business program. It will include office and reception space as well as a Skype room, which students can use for an international internship or job interviews and make connections with alumni abroad.
Ribbens believes the new space will give greater exposure to the program both in the College of Business and on a larger scale.
ISU’s international business degree is the only one of its kind at a public university in Illinois.
MBA rises in the rankings
The College of Business also is making strides in its offerings for graduate level students.
Speaking of the Masters of Business Administration (MBA) program, Terry Noel, associate dean for academic programs and curriculum, observed, “We have been consistently moving up in the rankings in entities like U.S. News and World Report. We’re pretty happy about that.”
ISU is ranked 89th in the 2020 best part-time MBA program list compiled by U.S. News and World Report, which was up from 92nd in the 2019 edition and 143rd in 2018.
Noel reported he hopes to see the program become even more competitive in the coming year as it transitions to a blended format in the spring of 2020. As part of the change, MBA courses will be presented half online and half in a traditional in-class format.
“I think we’re doing some things to go in a good direction—the blended learning, reducing our MBA hours and so forth—but all of that is for naught if you don’t have a very strong identity of being student-centered,” he said. “All of it comes down to students. We value scholarship and we have some very good scholars on our campus and here in the College of Business, but the interest in scholarship doesn’t overshadow our dedication to our students. So I think what’s (leading to our increase) in the rankings and our enrollments rebounding and everything is people recognizing that when they come here they’re going to get treated well. They’re going to get a first-rate education from a professor who cares. You can’t buy that off the shelf.”
He admitted there are numerous competitors in the MBA market and said ISU will continue to have to be adaptable as it works to meet the needs of students.
“We would like to be the MBA program for central Illinois students and beyond that. We’re good enough and we’re solid enough at what we do,” he said. “We’re going to have to continue to explore ways to respond to the student of today and to do that while maintaining what is best about us, which is a quality education at an affordable price in a student-centered place that doesn’t make you feel like a number.”