Brenau’s Business School Adopts Entrepreneurial Strategy

Lucy Adams

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

Education costs are rising and the skills demanded in the 21st-century workplace are changing at a rapid rate. Institutions of higher education are challenged with aligning academic programs with the tuition charged and the knowledge and skills desired by employers.

Georgia’s own Brenau University is a leader in the education marketplace. U.S. News and World Report rated Brenau University one of the Best Colleges in 2012, and the Princeton Review consistently lists Brenau University as one of the top Southeastern colleges. With campuses in Gainesville, Norcross, Fairburn, Augusta, Kings Bay and online, and a campus slated to open in Jacksonville, Florida in 2015, Brenau makes an estimated $80 million impact on Georgia’s economy.

Founded as Georgia Baptist Female Seminary in 1878 and renamed Brenau in 1900, the Gainesville campus was originally a women’s college. A residential women’s college remains a part of Brenau’s greater academic body today. An early adopter of innovation in education, Brenau began offering night and weekend classes to a co-ed population in the 1960s, meeting the needs of working adults wishing to finish or further their college careers. In 2000, it was one of the first universities to enter the online education arena.

Evolving from business classes offered in the humanities department into its own entity in 1999, Brenau University’s College of Business and Mass Communication has grown appreciably due to online curriculums. “Most of our students are somewhere else,” says Dr. Suzanne Erickson, Dean of the College of Business and Mass Communication, which totaled 1097 students at the end of spring 2014 (around 2800 students overall are enrolled in Brenau University).

When Dr. Erickson was first hired as department chair seven years ago, there were 750 students in the College of Business and Mass Communication and the majority were undergrads. Now only 35 percent are undergraduate students. “We’ve shifted our emphasis to graduate programs,” says Dr. Erickson, “because that’s where the demand in the education marketplace is.” In keeping with Brenau’s reputation as an institution on the front edge of waves of innovation, Dr. Erickson and the former dean with whom she worked allowed trends in the business world to shape their program.

She explains, “We’ve been entrepreneurial with the MBA program.” Soon after they both arrived at Brenau the same year, they inaugurated the first-in-the-state MBA in project management to prepare students to pass the exam for Project Management Professional Certification and enable them to earn graduate credit for the required 35 hours of project management education. The MBA in insurance came about in the same way for the same reasoning. Anyone with Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter certification can complete the graduate level core class requirements and earn an MBA.

The international program began with 26 students from Taiwan who enrolled in the project management MBA. “We created a whole staff for them,” says Dr. Erickson. That staff remains on point as students from five foreign countries now attend classes in a variety of concentration areas. “Each year we get 20-25 students in an international full-time cohort,” she remarks.

One of the newest and most exciting ventures Brenau’s business school has entered is its partnership with the Atlanta based Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs, an “education, commerce and media platform for second-stage business owners and high growth entrepreneurs who want to grow fast to the next level and exit successfully.” In cooperation Brenau and the Oxford Center are molding entrepreneurs. Brenau provides the academic base, while the Oxford Center adds access to a network of resources. Next fall, students will have the choice of opting into the MBA with or without the Oxford experience or completing a streamlined entrepreneur MBA in partnership with Oxford.  

Dr. Erickson and colleagues are fast adapting the business school to other marketplace demands, as well. “We’re implementing social media content into courses. We’ve added a social media course to the entrepreneur MBA,” she says. Furthermore, they’re constructing a concentration in data analytics. Dr. Erickson predicts, “There’s a huge mismatch right now between the jobs that require this skill and the people to fill them. That can be a real growth area for us.”

Professors do most of their teaching on-line since non-resident students account for most of the revenue. Nineteen full-time faculty in the business school take the lead professor role and manage about 150 adjunct faculty, who are working professionals in their fields of expertise. “We’ve grown through our choice of programs,” says Dr. Erickson. “When you’re a tuition driven private school, you have to respond to the market.”

End of course survey results indicate that the Brenau business school is successful. Eighty-percent of undergraduates report they have a job or an offer and 47 percent report they expect a promotion upon matriculation. At the graduate level, 37 percent expect a promotion and 88 percent expect a raise after completing their advanced degree. These numbers indicate that a Brenau diploma delivers.