From B-School to E-School: Business Schools Dive into the E-Business Pool
Businesses spent $32 billion on e-commerce in 1999. Consumers spent around $7.6 billion and advertisers spent more than $4 billion. So how much did American universities spend preparing America’s business leaders for the e-commerce world? Not much.
Today, a handful of business schools are logging on to what they believe could be the wave of the future. As the Internet becomes more pervasive – recent estimates say that 57 percent of Americans are now online – a growing number of universities are starting to offer e-business degrees to prepare their students for the world of e-commerce.
“The advent of e-business degrees is a response to the tremendous market need for e-business experts,” says Steve Shank, president of Capella University, an accredited online university that recently started offering degree programs in e-business. “As people see that understanding e-commerce is crucial to remaining competitive, they want to know what they can do to capitalize on this growing field. University-level instruction is clearly one good option.”
To date, enrollment figures for the universities offering e-business degrees have more than justified the investment. At Capella University, the first accredited university to offer e-business degrees online, the university’s first e-business course filled up in days, prompting the university to immediately open a second section.
Although it has only been running since September 1999, Capella University’s e-business MBA program is already matching enrollment totals of other popular business programs, such as marketing, information technology and accounting. By the end of the 2000, it will likely have the highest enrollment of any Capella University program.
This phenomenal growth can be attributed to the market demand for e-commerce experts. With new dot-com companies forming every day and many bricks-and-mortar companies racing to get online, employment experts say there is simply more demand for people with e-commerce expertise than there are people to fill these positions.
“So many companies are struggling to find people with experience in e-commerce,” said Jim Kopp, CEO of Wizmo, a Web-based company that develops Web sites, Intranets and online e-commerce storefronts. “Almost every company needs help defining and executing an e-commerce strategy. People who have knowledge in implementing e-business plans are going to find themselves in high demand in the coming years.”
What an e-business degree actually means depends on the institution that confers it. Some focus on technology, some on marketing and others on pricing and customer service. However, all these programs share one common sentiment: Business and e-business are separated by more than just a prefix.
“The Internet has revolutionized the business world. No question about it,” said Barry Judge, vice president of marketing for BestBuy.com, the e-commerce Web site of the Fortune 200 appliance and electronics retailer. “E-commerce gives companies the opportunity to create interactive, one-to-one relationships with their customers – something companies weren’t necessarily equipped to do in the past. It’s a new way of interacting with customers, and it requires a new way of thinking.”
At Capella University, e-business classes focus on the practical – creating a viable business model for the online world. Capella University’s e-business curriculum is designed to help students create business plans they can apply today.
“Probably two-thirds of our students take the business plans they create in our e-business courses and immediately bring them to life,” said Shank. “That’s rewarding for us because as adult educators, we believe it is important to challenge our students with projects that interest them. If our curriculum can become a catalyst for companies improving the strategy and execution of their e-business plans, then we are doing our job as a university.”
Learning that Works Today
Dave Held is a perfect example. A circulation manager for a business-to-business publishing company in Duluth, Minn., Held decided to take a course in e-business at Capella University because of his interest in the online medium. However, after developing an e-business plan for the course, Held saw an opportunity to turn his e-business interest into an e-business profession.
Held is currently creating an Internet-based community that would facilitate interaction between customers and vendors by combining the content of business-to-business publications with the interactive communication of the Internet. He named his new company Vertical Publishing. Now, pending adequate financing, he will be launching his business this spring.
“Vertical Publishing wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for my e-business coursework,” Held said. “I took the class simply because I was interested in learning more about e-business. However, since I was able to develop a plan around my own business experience, it made me think creatively about how I could use the Web to bring the content of business-to-business publications to life. That thinking has led me down the road to entrepreneurship.”
Learning online also offers e-business students the chance to be e-business consumers while they learn. By logging on to a Web site every day to complete their course work, the students participate in the e-commerce process from the consumer perspective. Shank said that learning about e-business in this way can help students become more conscious of what companies are doing to make e-business successful.
“Capella University is an academic institution,” Shank said. “However, at the end of the day, we are an e-business as well. Many of the challenges we have faced are the same as those our students are learning about in class – such as driving traffic, providing interactivity and supporting customers. These experiences have given us the street-smart credibility that aspiring e-commerce professionals are looking for.” Courtesy of ARA Content.
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