W. P. Carey School launches Forward Focus MBA program

A photograph of the Carey School's McCord Hall

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2015, click here.

A business degree has long been the most direct route to corporate success, but good business skills also can provide people with the means to give back to their communities.

And now Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business wants to help people who desire to do good through its new Forward Focus MBA program.

The school will offer up to 120 full scholarships for master’s of business administration degrees next year, an effort to maintain its competitive edge among top business school applicants while increasing the appeal of an MBA to people who want to give back to their communities through nonprofit work or innovative startups struggling to launch.

By covering tuition and fees, the Forward Focus scholarship will put an MBA in reach for potential entrepreneurs and non-profit leaders who might otherwise have skipped the degree because of the cost.

“Being at ASU and seeing how we have been so successful with our excellence and access mission with undergraduates really inspired us to think differently about an MBA,” said Amy Hillman, dean of the W.P. Carey School of Business, which already provides more than $1 million in scholarships for undergraduate degrees.

“If someone has a great start-up idea, and they know they would be more successful in their venture if they had the skills and networking that an MBA would give them, they might be concerned about spending the money because it takes away from the capital needed for the start-up venture,” Hillman said.

W.P. Carey School dean Amy Hillman congratulates graduates in 2015

Dean Amy Hillman congratulates the graduates as they receive their diploma cases at ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business convocation, Thursday, May 14, 2015, at Wells Fargo Arena. Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Tuition and fees for the full-time MBA program are $54,000 for Arizona residents, $87,000 for non-residents and $90,000 for international students.

Likewise, MBA expertise such as supply-chain management could be a huge benefit for a leader of a non-profit relief agency who must coordinate transportation and logistics.

“We’re very hopeful that we’ll get more high-quality applicants as a result of this program, and the kinds of people who might think they can’t pursue a top MBA program,” Hillman said.

The W.P. Carey’s School of Business full-time MBA program is ranked among the top 30 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

The MBA class that began this semester includes 86 students, 70 percent of whom are male. The average age of the group is 28, and about a quarter are international students.

The Forward Focus MBA scholarships will begin in fall 2016 and cover the full-time, on-campus program — not the online or part-time programs.

Forward Focus isn’t the only change the W.P. Carey School will be making to its MBA program. The school has spent a year revamping the MBA curriculum, increasing the credits from 48 to 60 with the addition of four courses that will provide more real-world training.

The new courses are Decision-Making With Data Analytics; Executive Connections, which provides mentoring from retired senior executives; Intellection Fusion Learning Lab, pairing MBA students with master’s students in other disciplines; and Future Forward Leadership, which builds real-time skills in improvisation and decision-making.

“We know the skills of the future have to do with flexibility, agility, being able to scenario-plan, think through the changes that might happen and consider how they might go about adjusting their organization or strategy for those changes,” Hillman said.

Feedback on the course improvements was provided by faculty, alumni, corporate recruiters and the school’s team of in-house business executives.

One of the executives who helped to refine the program was Bob O’Malley, now retired after working several decades in the technology industry, including 19 years with IBM in Asia and the United States. O’Malley is on the W.P. Carey’s “executive connections” team, where he mentors several MBA students.

He also is an ASU alum, having received an MBA in 1973.

“Back then the program was primarily function and content driven. The professor had the content or the textbook had the content,” O’Malley said. “There was a little bit of experiential learning through case studies and a little bit of teamwork, not a lot.”

The updated program makes the experience more strategically focused.

“For example, the class on global economics. Rather than strictly economics, it’s changed to ‘global business environments,’ which brings in different cultures associated with global business operations, which is more than just economics,” O’Malley said.

The funding for the Forward Focus MBA program comes primarily from the original endowment from William Polk Carey, the real-estate investor whose foundation donated $50 million to the business school in 2003.

“His investment in us can allow us to invest in these students,” Hillman said.

The recipients will be encouraged to pay it forward to future do-gooders.

“What we’re hoping to engender in the students is that this is like an ‘angel investor’ who has invested in them as opposed to an enterprise, and as they go out to be successful in whatever walks of life, they will make this opportunity available to those students who come behind them.”

Hillman said that ASU is committed to the Forward Focus MBA beyond next year.

“I think this really is the path forward,” she said.

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