On Thursday, nine men and women from Singapore stepped onto the Sacramento State campus for the first time. On Friday, they graduated from the school with MBA degrees.
The nine were among the first class of students enrolled in the university’s Singapore-based International Master of Business Administration program, and they joined 450 other business students who graduated in a ceremony Friday at Sleep Train Arena. The international program was started in January 2013 as the overseas demand for U.S. college degrees increased.
“The world is going global,” said Sanjay Varshney, dean of the School of Business at CSUS. “There is a global market. CSUS has been a regional school, and we wanted to broaden its horizons and exposure. We were looking to do something international.”
Many of the students in the International MBA program had never been to the United States. Instead, the students spent the last year – and about $30,000 apiece – taking CSUS classes in Singapore.
“I love the program,” said Karen Leong, an IMBA graduate and general manager of Valiram, a retail company in Singapore. “I think it’s amazing that this is a 12-month program. I had a wonderful experience because I had classmates from all over the world.”
Sixteen men and women, who hailed from places like Korea, Myanmar, Australia, Singapore and India, made up the first class of the international program. Not all could make the trip to Sacramento to attend graduation.
“The students were very competitive, more competitive than American students,” said Selvi Stanislaus, executive officer of the state Franchise Tax Board. Stanislaus taught a Legal Business course as part of the IMBA program. “They strive for success. … They want nothing short of an A-plus.”
Every student in her class earned an A.
Sac State’s venture is working, according to Varshney. While many U.S. universities pulled their business programs out of Singapore in the last year, the CSUS program – fueled by the California State University system’s name recognition and a mid-range tuition compared to competitors – is thriving, he said.
Back in Singapore, another 20 students have already started classes, and next school year the program is expected to expand to as many as 30 students, he said.
All 16 graduates this year are professionals with 15 to 20 years experience in business who signed up to reach a long sought-after MBA or to improve their employment prospects. The students earned 36 units and an MBA degree over 12 to15 months. Each course consisted of 10 days of online classes, followed by four days of face-to-face instruction from a CSUS professor flown to Singapore, and then another 10 days of online coursework, Varshney said.
“I only slept four hours a night for a year,” said Leong, who estimated she spent three hours each day studying. “That’s what we needed to do because we are all busy executives.”
Students in the program concentrate on one of three areas: information technology management, finance or international management.
“The structure of the program is very good,” said Vijin Venugopalan, an assistant vice president for MasterCard in Singapore. “There was no compromise on the quality (despite the concentrated time frame).”
Both he and Leong said they did extensive research before signing onto the Sacramento State program. They were convinced by the reputation of the CSU system and the fact the university sent professors to Singapore for face-to face instruction.
Students wave off the idea that this is an online program, saying they studied in small groups, worked together on projects and shared their individual expertise during the year. They intend to stay in contact.
“We want to be connected,” Leong said. “We have a dream to do business together. We learn from each other.”
The students who made up the first IMBA class also vowed to start an alumni group and to promote the program in Singapore. “We want the program to be successful,” said Venugopalan.
The students who graduated Friday said they didn’t mind paying the $4,000 to $5,000 it cost them to travel to Sacramento to walk across the stage to pick up their diplomas. They were even more excited about visiting the university that bestowed their degrees.
Before Thursday, Sacramento State was just an image on the Internet, Venugopalan said. “We wanted to have a sense of belonging.”
“It’s beautiful. It’s big,” said Leong, who explained that universities in Singapore are generally much smaller.
The local business community – including many CSUS alumni – offered the graduates a warm welcome. On Thursday, Dennis Gardemeyer, chief executive officer of Zuckerman Family Farms and Delta Bluegrass Co., among other companies, hosted the IMBA candidates at a barbecue on his farm after the group visited the CSUS campus. The group also visited the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco, Pier 39 and the state Franchise Tax Board.
“We are very proud of this program,” said Varshney, who counts the International MBA program among his signature projects as dean. “We are taking the risk, and we are having a huge payoff.”