Work, don't just study, business students told Widener urges adjusting for the tight economy.

Posted: September 27, 2002

In these tough economic times, Widener University's business school is advising its students to get to work. Even while enrolled in college.

"We're encouraging our undergraduates to be much more open to cooperative education or internships because they help you get [permanent] jobs," said Eric Brucker, dean of the School of Business Administration. "With the tighter economy, more and more employers are looking for experience."

"It was a hard sell before, when the market was so good in the '90s. But now that the job market is not growing, it really does make a difference," he said in an interview this week on the university's Chester campus.

With recent corporate accounting scandals in mind, the school also has a new topic for its undergraduate honors program this fall. Called "Corporate Law and Social Policy - Enron's Black Box," it is "a case study of Enron, corporate responsibility and business ethics," Brucker said.

The business school has 38 full-time and 16 adjunct faculty members. Its alumni include 1984 M.B.A. graduate H. Edward Hanway, now chief executive officer of Cigna Corp., the Philadelphia insurance company.

The school's new $9 million headquarters, which was scheduled to be dedicated today, is named for Leslie C. Quick Jr., who cofounded the brokerage firm Quick & Reilly. Quick, a 1950 graduate of what is now Widener, died in 2001.

His son, Peter, the president of the American Stock Exchange, is expected to attend the dedication of the 32,500-square-foot Leslie C. Quick Jr. Center.

Widener started an undergraduate business program in 1947, and it added graduate studies 20 years later. The business program became a separate school in 1979, when Widener became a university.

The school had 564 undergraduate students in the 2001-02 year and 356 master's degree students, mostly part-time.

Among recent innovations at the school is a two-year-old program in financial planning, which Brucker said was increasingly important with the aging of the baby boomers.

"A good financial planner can raise the right questions," he said.

Brucker said the school also ran a program in information systems with the German software company SAP Inc., which has its North American headquarters in Newtown Square. Another new program, technology management, is operated with Widener's engineering school.

As a result of the slow national economy over the last 18 months, the number of full-time students in the M.B.A. program has increased, he said.

"That's clearly impacted by the fact that a lot of people can't get decent jobs as easily as in the past," Brucker said.

Even so, Widener's M.B.A. program has mostly part-time students who have full-time jobs. "The biggest cost of getting an M.B.A. [while going to school full time] is not the tuition," he said. "It's forgoing employment."

The school offers other master's programs, including health administration and information systems.

The undergraduate program also is growing. Brucker said this year's freshman class is 130, which is 30 percent larger than last year's. He surmised that the reason was "just demographics - that high school classes last year were bigger and that more people were being more practical about their careers.

"Parents want their children to pursue something that will give them a leg up in the job market," he said.

Gary Lehman, 20, an undergraduate, said he had been in the business school for the three years during which the stock market went bust and the accounting scandals surfaced.

"A lot of teachers make note of it, especially in the accounting classes," he said of the scandals that have rocked such companies as Enron Corp. and Arthur Andersen. "There's some, but not too much, discussion of ethics."

He said the most important thing he had learned was that business was always changing. "I take a lot of accounting classes," Lehman said, "and the accounting standards get changed from year to year."

Contact Thomas J. Brady at tbrady@phillynews.com or at 215-854-2525.

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