Biz, education degrees dominate area colleges

By: Cali Owings, INFORUM

FARGO – Each year, Fargo-Moorhead area colleges graduate a higher proportion of education and business students than students in any other field.

Of the 87,000 students who have earned bachelor’s degrees from North Dakota State University, Minnesota State University Moorhead and Concordia College in the past 25 years, nearly a third studied business or education fields, shows data from the U.S. Department of Education.

At NDSU, nearly 20 percent of graduates in 2012 were business majors – up from 13 percent in 1987 when the business school opened.

At MSUM, more than 45 percent of 2012 graduates studied either business or education. While Concordia grads are a little more diversified, a quarter of them studied business or education.

Officials from MSUM, a former teacher’s college, and Concordia, a private Lutheran liberal arts school, said their schools’ unique history added to a strong tradition of training teachers.

Though business degrees are still popular, the number of graduates in those areas of study has waned at MSUM and Concordia in the past 25 years, while recently growing at NDSU.

The Fargo-Moorhead area has a “growing need for highly educated business students,” said Jim Gartin, president of the Greater Fargo-Moorhead Economic Development Corp.

Gartin said he couldn’t identify any areas he thought were in decline. He said the area’s two biggest workforce needs are computer science and engineering graduates. Engineering was NDSU’s most popular area of study in 1987. Today, it’s second to business.

Regardless of area of study, Gartin said it is important to retain students after they graduate.

“Our goal is to keep as many of the … brightest in this marketplace and be able to grow from that,” he said.

Business boom at NDSU

The growth of NDSU’s College of Business has been intentional, said Associate Dean Tim Peterson.

The “youngest college on campus” started with just two programs – business administration and accounting – and didn’t become accredited until 2000.

“That accreditation is really important. Industry knows that students who go to a highly accredited school are getting a better education,” Peterson said.

The school also opened its new $23.5 million building in fall 2009. Peterson said the school’s dedicated space in Barry Hall in downtown Fargo has made an impression on students.

“Students came and saw us as a legitimate, tangible business school, which they probably didn’t see before,” he said.

The physical space provided room for more students and additional areas of study, including management, marketing and finance.

Jacob Cusick, a senior from Cottage Grove, Minn., said the business school’s new building was a big selling point in addition to NDSU’s sports and location.

But the biggest factor when he chose an accounting major his freshman year? Job prospects.

“I was just thinking ‘What do I think would be a good job in the future?’ ” Cusick said.

Though he knew he had an interest in accounting because his dad owns an accounting business, Cusick said the business school allowed him to explore other areas of the industry in his general classes.

So far, Cusick said the job outlook is pretty good for when he graduates next December. He’s currently interning at Cargill.

Peterson said many of the school’s graduates choose to stay with companies in the Red River Valley.

A teaching tradition

Area colleges have consistently graduated large crops of new teachers every year.

Boyd Bradbury, MSUM’s interim dean of education and human services, said the school has a “strong historical tradition” of preparing teachers.

While MSUM overall has experienced an enrollment decline in recent years, he said the School of Teaching and Learning has not.

Within education, he said their elementary inclusive education program was most popular. It requires eight additional credits, and students gain more exposure to special education than a standard teaching program.

Private religious schools like Concordia were founded with an emphasis in sending young people on to seminaries and churches, and also out into the community as teachers, said Eric Eliason, dean of the college.

“A number of schools like Concordia have long traditions in education as part of that,” he said.

He said the school’s mission and liberal arts curriculum emphasizes more than career preparation for students.

“The name of your major doesn’t need to be the name of a job,” he said.

But with more than 25,000 students in area school districts and high-demand in rural and urban areas across the nation, Bradbury said it’s an exception to the rule if a recent teaching graduate can’t find a job.

Bradbury said MSUM has good relationships with school districts in Fargo-Moorhead and throughout Minnesota.

In the Moorhead School District, a fourth of new hires this year were MSUM graduates. A few years ago, seven out of 10 new hires in Detroit Lakes, Minn., schools trained at MSUM.

According to student surveys, most graduates stay in North Dakota or Minnesota.

Bradbury said it’s also an attractive program because there are always graduate and additional licensure opportunities available for teachers – an area of focus and recent growth for MSUM.

After students complete their bachelor’s degrees, he said the school wants to build on their education at the graduate level.

“We don’t just forget about them once they’re gone,” he said.