Sacramento State to launch MBA program in Singapore

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 6B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2012 - 8:03 am

Sacramento State is joining a growing list of American institutions exporting their classrooms to Asia.

The university plans to launch an MBA program in Singapore in November. The program would be the first of its kind for California State University, Sacramento.

"It's very difficult today to operate in isolation," said Sanjay Varshney, dean of the College of Business Administration. "This is consistent with our efforts to expand our name recognition beyond the region."

Despite the CSU system's budget woes, Varshney said the move overseas makes sense, citing increased demand for U.S. academic credentials.

"There is a huge attraction in Asia for getting an American degree," Varshney said.

Sacramento State is entering a crowded field – the University of Chicago and the City University of New York's Baruch College both have business programs in Singapore.

Chicago's 21-month program costs $150,000, compared with Sacramento's 12-month, $24,000 program.

"We are bringing value," he said. "If you look at what the other guys charge, it's $100,000 or more."

Varshney said he's not competing with Chicago or other elite institutions – he's looking at middle-tier students, a market that is dominated largely by Australian and British universities.

The MBA program in Singapore will be identical to the one at the Sacramento campus. It will be taught by CSU faculty using the same curriculum.

Business schools are increasingly looking abroad, not only for students, but also to enhance their programs.

"If Hong Kong is a financial hub for China, which it is, there could be a good match for a finance-oriented program," said Dan LeClair, executive vice president for the Tampa-based Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, an organization that accredits business schools.

Many schools use their foreign operations as a way to increase enrollment or to establish a foothold for faculty research. There has been a substantial expansion in the demand for management education, particularly overseas, LeClair said. "The schools go where the students are."

Varshney acknowledged that CSU Sacramento's foray into Singapore is not without risk. The university doesn't have the same resources as Harvard or Yale, he said. An exit plan is ready, in case things turn sour. He said the program would be financed by fees paid by students in Singapore.

In recent years, the tough economy and competitive market has resulted in several schools pulling out of Singapore, said Kapil Bawa, director of executive programs at Baruch College's Zicklin School of Business. Bawa oversees Baruch's portfolio of international business programs in China, France, Singapore and Taiwan.

Baruch has aggressively courted the growing crowd of business students overseas. Its $22,000 master of science programs are likewise attractively priced, compared with Sacramento State's.

The number of American schools moving overseas could eventually translate into fewer international students coming to the United States to study, but James G. Ellis, dean of the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business, said he is not worried about the increased competition.

USC boasts the highest number of international students in the nation, with most hailing from Asia. Over 90 percent of USC's Los Angeles-based accelerated one-year MBA students are from abroad – again, most from Asian countries.

"You can't explain what China is like until you walk the streets of China. It's the same thing for America," Ellis said. "Asian students want to pick up the cultural side of American business and you have to come to the U.S. for that."

USC's joint MBA program with Shanghai's Jiao Tong University is entering its eighth year. Students go back and forth, studying in Los Angeles and Shanghai. Ellis said schools need to build brand recognition and recruit students.

"Many schools think it's easy to put up a school in a hotel overseas," Ellis said. "Opening (your) doors and saying, 'We are a California institution' doesn't ensure success."

The average MBA program at USC costs upward of $100,000 – more than four times the cost of a similar program at CSU Sacramento.

Varshney said he thinks Sacramento State is well-positioned to compete with other institutions, whether they are USC or the University of Chicago. "Not everyone can get into those types of institutions," he said. "And not everyone can afford those prices either."

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