MBA Career Services Resist Tide Of Budget Cuts

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Many graduate business schools are maintaining or expanding career services for MBA students, even while investment losses cut into overall university budgets.

Career services offerings remain rich at the business schools of Harvard, Notre Dame, Yale, Cornell, Stanford, and USC, administrators at each institution tell eFinancialCareers News. At the same time, many institutions - including some within the Ivy League - have reduced career services staff and travel due to budget restrictions. But if career services have taken a major hit, no one is discussing it openly.

"We have heard from both sides - schools that are ramping up career services in order to provide more services due to the tough economy and schools that are having to cut back due to budget cuts," says Megan Hendricks, executive director of the MBA Career Services Council in Tampa, Fla.

Take the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business. A "conservative" approach to spending as well as investing allowed it to expand career outreach this year, according to Patrick Perrella, director of MBA career development. Mendoza has been able to expand outreach to companies and aims to do many more student road shows and sponsor more career conference booths this year - notwithstanding Notre Dame's 20.8 percent loss on endowment assets for 2009.

Crisis Contingency Plan Helped Harvard

Officials at Harvard Business School - whose parent Harvard University suffered a 27 percent loss on its endowment during the fiscal year ended June 2009 - paint a similar picture.

A contingency plan HBS adopted early in 2008, before the brunt of the financial crisis hit, called for ramping up career services spending to help minimize fallout for MBA candidates. The school now employs an unusually large staff of 35 contract career coaches alongside eight full-time workers. It's also increased certain summer fellowships and loan reduction programs and bolstered corporate outreach efforts. As a result, "Last summer we were able to double our on-site visits with corporate recruiters," says Jana Kierstead, managing director of MBA career and professional development.

HBS increased its careers budget by 30 percent starting in September 2008. That allowed Kierstead's office to add 10 career coaches within six months and extend more help to the classes of 2008, 2009 and 2010. Harvard officials acknowledge shifting resources from elsewhere in the budget to support career and professional development, but decline to specify what was cut.

Yale's School of Management is maintaining its level of career services while reducing other spending, says its dean, Sharon Oster. "We, like Harvard, took a hit in our endowment," she explains. "I'm cutting back IT. I'm cutting my marketing group. But I'm not cutting back career services. Students really need it now more than ever."

Other Revenue Sources Outweigh Endowment Income

Not all schools depend heavily on investment income from their endowment, observes Peter Giulioni, assistant dean of full-time MBA student affairs and the MBA career services center at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business. "Our annual operating budget is supported primarily by tuition and gifts," says Giulioni. Therefore, "we're not hit as hard as other private institutions" that rely on endowment income. While the business school didn't have to reduce staff, Giulioni was asked to closely monitor and manage staff expenses associated with travel and any expenses associated with non-career related activities.

Students and alumni have not been affected, he says. For instance, nearly 750 Marshall students traveled overseas this year for international consulting assignments- an experience all of USC's MBA candidates get as part of earning their degree. "That program has not suffered at all," Giulioni notes.

The economic downturn prompted Stanford University's Graduate School of Business to re-think its strategy, says Pulin Sanghvi, assistant dean and director of the career management center. While eliminating two staff advisors, the center moved to leverage a newly-formed network of alumni external career advisors. "We have been able to step up our level of service because of the quality and strength" of the external advisor network, Sanghvi says.

At Cornell University's Johnson School, "We're not cutting back career services. We're investing in it," says Randy Allen, the business school's associate dean for marketing and corporate relations.

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