Rockhurst University Capstone Report: The Future of Undergraduate Business Education

  • Undergraduate students need help identifying and pursuing the skills most relevant for career success. Rockhurst is introducing classes and a "personal coach" program to address this knowledge gap.
  • To remain relevant, universities must be more nimble in their offerings and delivery. The future will include a hybrid of traditional education with online learning, internships, service learning experiences, badges and certificates, and more.

The Rockhurst University MBA 2018 Capstone Project, "The Future of Undergraduate Business Education," explored why innovation in business is outpacing innovation in education. The project aimed to develop a robust undergraduate experience — a prototype for The Helzberg School of Management’s undergraduate business program — that sets students up for success in a rapidly changing post-graduate world.

MBA students* investigated:

  1. Demands of the contemporary workplace
  2. Student attitudes and expectations regarding their business education
  3. Evolving needs of higher education to prepare students with necessary competencies

1. Demands of the Contemporary Workplace

Students surveyed 68 American executives on employer-desired competencies, skills, extracurriculars, and academics. These outcomes corroborated other, similar studies as outlined below:

What Employers Deem Most Critical Competencies in the Hiring Process: Data from 11 National Studies Compiled and Aggregated by Gould Evans

2. Student Attitudes and Expectations

The MBA students worked with Gould Evans to design a 16-question survey for Helzberg School of Management undergraduate and graduate students, which informed more in-depth focus groups — revealing that students perceive a lack of flexibility and desire more “real-world” experience in their education. In tandem, the team was provided data from Ruffalo Noel Levits (enrollment management partner) and VML (marketing partner) to define a Generation Z profile: digital native, pragmatic, financially risk averse, competitive, entrepreneurial, inclusive, and secular but socially minded.

3. Evolving Needs of Higher Education

The team took three major insights from their research:

  • The competencies most desired by managers are the same competencies they find lacking in new graduates.
  • Students feel a disconnect between what they learn at Rockhurst and workplace demands.
  • What characterizes business schools as “innovative” based on university ranking systems (research and publications, patent filings, nominations, career placement and salary, selectivity, etc.) has little to do with actual innovation. Instead, the shift can occur with a change in pedagogy.

What can Rockhurst do to close the gap? An innovative program would fall under the following optimization criteria:

  • Individualization - The undergraduate business journey should be tailored to each individual student.
  • Relevance - The undergraduate business journey should be relevant to workplace demands.

  1. Student Profile: provide individualized experience by capturing and tracking concentration or focus, personal development goals, and assessment of skills drawn from professor feedback
  2. Coaching Program: pair students with a coach based on personality (e.g., executive/ambassador paradigm) to further the individualization experience
  3. Personal and Professional Development Practicum Additions: prepare students for relevant business practice by offering a Professional Readiness class series and individualized guidance in their respective majors
  4. Embedded Certification Opportunities: offer alongside current curriculum to provide relevant real-world experience, attract companies to hire students, and develop strategic partnerships with professional certification institutions
  5. Cultivate Alumni Relationships: create relevant connections between the university, students, and alumni
  6. Semester-Long Service Project: provide interdisciplinary, focused, long-term, real-world experience that solves a major community problem
  7. Interdisciplinary, Transversal Skills Classes: include students and professors from diverse departments and majors
  8. Faculty Profile: elaborate on teaching methods, courses taught/teaching, relevant business/career experience, preferred office hours, areas of interest, and awards or publications
  9. Cultivate Relationships with Outside Organizations: provide learning, internship, and career opportunities for students
  10. Develop Internal Certifications: double the number of professional certificate programs (e.g., business intelligence, data science, business analytics) and add more technical certification programs (e.g., business writing, inclusive leadership, digital marketing)
  11. IMPACT “Mini-Capstone”: sharpen students’ writing, speaking, and critical-thinking abilities through a collaborative 10-week project for client companies
  12. Robust Badging and Certificate Programs: rethinks higher education through a service industry lens, where students can customize a life-long education journey; adopts the idea of badges or nano-degrees, putting Rockhurst on the competitive edge of education and the 21st-century workforce; provides lifelong student flexibility; and allows employers and higher education institutions to co-develop the curriculum needed for 21st-century work.

*The study was led by seven MBA students: Nate Byarlay, Dylan Clark, Estuardo Garcia, Nick Hayden, Taylor Newell, Chris Maggio, and Christian Schveninger; Dr. Cheryl McConnell Dean, Helzberg School of Management; Dr. Randy Schwering, Associate Professor, Helzberg School of Management; Nathaniel Bozarth, Storyteller, Planner, Producer, and Videographer; and Andy Iseman, CEO, Scout Investments.