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UA taking look at classes aimed at business execs

Adding revenue plan’s goal

By Jaime Adame

This article was published August 1, 2014 at 2:29 a.m.

Customized classes for workers with J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. are only the beginning of an expanded effort at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville to boost revenue through similar education programs tailored to specific businesses.

"Executive education is potentially one of the best ways our college can raise net revenue, from what I can tell so far, because it's just a profitable business. Executives can just pay a lot more than students can," said Matthew Waller, associate dean for executive education for the Sam M. Walton College of Business.

Waller is the first person to hold the newly created position within UA's Walton College, his appointment became effective July 1. Executive education includes open enrollment courses for business leaders and custom programs for businesses.

"Our school has not really put a lot of effort into developing executive education prior to this," Waller said, describing UA's desire as in line with trends at other schools.

"More and more universities are relying on executive education to generate revenue to cover things like summer support for faculty, especially new faculty," Waller said, referring to financial support for research.

Such executive education won't generally include the awarding of a UA degree. Waller's focus does not include the increasingly popular executive master's in business administration program, for example.

Executive education at UA isn't new. In 1984, the university established the Center for Management and Executive Education, and it has regularly offered open-enrollment courses.

Open-enrollment courses for business leaders will continue, but "you can saturate a market pretty quickly," Waller said.

"My preference would be to develop the custom more," Waller said. With custom programs, "you basically work with a company to identify areas where they're seeing challenges or opportunities," he explained.

Most notable so far is the J.B. Hunt Supply Chain University announced in April.

Waller, an expert in supply chain management, worked on the program to "try to get the whole company up to speed on the big picture of supply chain management," he said, noting the Lowell-based company's evolution from trucking to a varied business that, for example, now advises clients where to locate distribution centers.

He said an early goal is to add one or two companies in partnerships similar to the J.B. Hunt agreement.

In response to an Arkansas Freedom of Information Act request, UA provided the proposal outlining the J.B. Hunt program but redacted the pricing structure. The university stated in an email that "publicly releasing the redacted material would hurt the University's efforts to negotiate favorable pricing with other entities in the future and would have a detrimental impact on J.B. Hunt with respect to its competitors."

Waller said he's still piecing together revenue goals for executive education. But along with summer support for faculty members, he said, he'd like to raise enough money to support graduate and undergraduate students pursuing honors research projects.

A robust executive education program can also help in other ways, Waller said.

"The faculty wind up getting sometimes data or access to information that they would probably not be able to get otherwise," Waller said.

He said UA's strengths in teaching about business supply chains could be key to educational partnerships beyond Arkansas -- mentioning businesses operating in China as being in need of such education.

"They have trouble getting those local employees to think in terms of supply chain management, because the United States is more well-developed in supply chain management than most of the world," Waller said.

UA could also leverage existing programs to provide more executive education, like an online certificate program teaching business analytics, Waller said.

"The demand for analytics education right now is just going through the roof," Waller said.

It can be a crowded field of education providers, however. The University of Texas at Austin states on its website that it has a client roster of more than 40 large U.S. and multinational companies that it serves with custom education programs, for example.

"The growing trend in executive education across the board is actually those customized solutions for companies," said Kate Atchley, executive director of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville's executive MBA programs, adding, "you have to have a strong value proposition for the company to be interested."

Waller acknowledged that some UA faculty members might be skeptical about executive education. But he noted a decrease in federal funding for research, and he described state funding as lagging behind the growth of UA -- making executive education potentially a vital contributor to the college.

"If I can generate some good additional money for the college -- and I should be able to, other schools do it -- then all of a sudden we have money to fund their research that they wouldn't be able to do otherwise," Waller said.

NW News on 08/01/2014

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