The next couple of years will be key to the University of Southern Mississippi’s College of Business, with the return of the MBA program to the Hattiesburg campus, the selection of a new dean and the opening of a new building to house its students, faculty and staff in Hattiesburg.
Budget cuts in 2010 forced the suspension of Hattiesburg’s MBA program, which is nearly 50 years old. The Gulf Coast program still operates full-time in Long Beach
Dr. Joe Peyrefitte, interim dean of the College of Business, said the university responded to the demand of local businesses to resume the program, first on a part time basis and possibly in the fall of 2014 back to full time.
“It’s one of our flagship programs and a good service to the community,” he said. “We’d like to return to that full time status.”
Initially, the Hattiesburg program will only offer night classes in the traditional face-to-face setting and courses will be available on a two-year rotating basis. Students can complete the program in one year by taking some classes on the Coast.
The MBA program that serves the Gulf Coast for more than 20 years is taught in a hybrid format: one week of classes online and one week in the traditional classroom setting with faculty and fellow students. “It’s a very creative way to fill the students’ needs,” he said.
The university designed the two formats to match the different MBA markets in Hattiesburg and Long Beach.
“The typical student in Hattiesburg is on average younger, in their mid to late 20s, coming from the undergraduate program,” Peyrefitte said.
“On the Coast we have working professionals looking to enhance their skills, who tend to be in their 30s or 40s.”
Enrollment has slowed in the last few years, reflecting the economic recovery. “Typically we have more students when the economy recovers,” Peyrefitte said.
Peyrefitte is not a candidate for the full time job. He will remain in the interim position until June 30 and then return to teaching and research. The search is down to four finalists and a decision will be made in mid to late spring.
Dr. Beth LaFleur, associate dean and MBA director, is based in Long Beach.
She said there are about 40 MBA students on the Gulf Coast. “We expect that to increase significantly once we start classes on the Hattiesburg campus again.”
She said USM is the only dual campus university in the state. “We will continue to grow business programs including the MBA on the Gulf Coast. We’re having really good success with that. There are a lot of important business and industry employers across the Coast.”
The new Hattiesburg home for the College of Business will be Scianna Hall, named in honor of USM graduate Chuck Scianna, who has pledged $6 million toward the $30 million project. Scianna is president and co-fouder of SIM-TEX, a producer of tubular goods for the oil and gas industry based in Waller, Texas.
The 93,000-square-foot building will increase the college’s square footage by 50 percent and replace Joseph Greene Hall, which opened in 1967. It will serve approximately 2,200 students, 65 faculty members and 17 staffers.
When Scianna Hall opens in the fall of 2014, LaFleur said, it will be “a major step forward for the College of Business.”
Peyrefitte said the new building will help attract and retain students and put USM in a league with other competing business schools in the Gulf South region such as South Alabama and Ole Miss.
“There are plenty of options,” Peyrefitte said. “What we’re working on is to make (the program) something distinctive.”
One opportunity may come from the folding in the economic development degree faculty into the business college, which is subject to approval of the state Institutions of Higher Learning.
“We have opportunities to have synergies with the two masters programs,” he said. “It’s a nice fit.”
LaFleur called the MBA the “gold standard of degrees.”
“It is now the most sought after graduate degree and as the needs of business continue to demand a more educated employee with a high level of skills, we see nothing but continued growth for this program,” she said.
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