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Crisis over, Md. business schools adjust to evolving industry

‘The thing about the finance major is it’s a business major but it’s a quantitatively-based field,’ says Steve Isberg, associate professor of finance for the University of Baltimore, shown teaching a class. Students are working with financial information, accounting, statistical analysis, and analytical thinking. A lot of jobs are looking for these skills.’ (Submitted photo)

‘The thing about the finance major is it’s a business major but it’s a quantitatively-based field,’ says Steve Isberg, associate professor of finance for the University of Baltimore, shown teaching a class. Students are working with financial information, accounting, statistical analysis, and analytical thinking. A lot of jobs are looking for these skills.’ (Submitted photo)

Business school leaders in Maryland are adapting their programs to match the demands of an ever-evolving banking and finance industry, adding more specialized courses and integrating new technologies into their curricula.

For many, the changes were prompted, at least in part, as the educational field weathered the impact of the 2007-’08 financial crisis.

Dr. Babu G. Baradwaj, chair of the finance department at Towson University, believes that the financial industry’s problems briefly dimmed the interest of students in pursuing finance-related degrees – or at least it gave the finance industry a dirty name.

“We saw the worst of it in 2011 to 2012 right after the financial crisis. People did not want to be associated with a degree in finance,” Baradwaj said.

At the time, Towson was in the midst of overhauling its finance program. The program was revamped from a one-track focus on corporate finance to a three-path track where students were prepared to become investors, financial planners or financial advisers, not just corporate bankers.

For Dr. Tylor Claggett, a professor and the director of the financial planning track at Salisbury University, the financial crisis dramatically affected class curricula and the nature of the program’s teaching.

“The financial crisis was a learning experience for us all – and we talk about it and the importance of professional standards in all of our classes,” Claggett said.

Steve Isberg, associate professor of finance for the University of Baltimore, said the skills taught in finance program are a great fit for many professions and industries.

“The thing about the finance major is it’s a business major but it’s a quantitatively-based field. Students are working with financial information, accounting, statistical analysis, and analytical thinking. A lot of jobs are looking for these skills. That’s one of the reasons finance majors tend to be very successful compared to other undergraduate and graduate majors,” Isberg said.

 

Enrollment trends

The numbers for business and management degrees at Maryland colleges tell a similar tale.

University System of Maryland institutions, like Towson, Salisbury, University of Baltimore and College Park, awarded 8,580 business and management degrees in fiscal year 2016 alone. Business and management, and its associated tracks, are consistently the most awarded degrees in the University system. The closest competitor is computer science, with 4,647 degrees awarded in fiscal year 2016.

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council’s “2016 Applications Trends Survey Report,” 49 percent of all graduate business programs, in which finance is usually a specialized track or an individual degree, received more applications in 2016 compared to the previous year. In addition, the report concludes, “for a second year in a row, a majority of Master of Finance programs report growing volumes.”

The report notes in its executive summary, that, “During the recession of the early 2000s, application volumes increased and then declined, hitting bottom in 2004. Application volumes grew once again, reaching a new peak in the midst of the ‘Great Recession’ in 2008.”

So where do students who graduate from these programs ultimately work? Maryland business educators say that students who graduate with finance degrees have good access to local employers in the field. Many students end up working for Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, or big asset management firms like T. Rowe Price Group and Morgan Stanley.

 

Data analytics

So what’s next for the finance field? The survey report notes that the Master of Data Analytics continues to see a growing demand.

Nicola Daniel, a former portfolio manager and current executive director for the CFA Society of Baltimore and the director of employer relations for the Master of Finance Program at the University of Maryland College Park’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, has seen a rise in specialization degrees.

“Since the financial crisis, the overall demand for specialty masters programs has increased dramatically. People want to go back to school, but they don’t want to go back for a two-year degree. They don’t want to spend a lot on tuition and lose two years of income,” she said.

Having a master’s in business administration is no longer a key differentiator – employers want more, and students are eager for the education. The value of the MBA is there, Daniel says, but the specialized degrees are on the rise, and many schools are tacking on specialized tracks to their MBA programs.

Degrees that give students an edge, like technology and programming experience, or a chartered financial analyst certification, give a leg up on the competition.

Claggett would agree. “I always tell my students – if I had to give up one of my degrees, what would I give up first — my charter or my MBA? And I always tell them I’d give up my MBA. Having a charter is a more rare designation than an MBA. It’s a significant commitment to achieve the charter,” Claggett said.

Daniel believes that the next trend in finance will be what she refers to as “fintech” degrees – a crossover between finance and technology.

“When I meet with employers, one of the first questions they ask is how many of our students can do programming. That’s the next wave of change in the financial services industry. There’s a big overlap between information systems and finance,” she said.

College Park has already begun introducing computer programming as part of their finance classes, and vice versa. In 2019, the school plans to include some aspects of fintech in its curriculum.

Daniel forecasts that a lot more schools will be doing the same.

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