Silicon Valley/SJ Business Journal: Business Dean Focuses on Reputation, Revenue, Research

SJSU heads to Facebook, Google ads to recruit new students

Published by the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal April 20, 2012.

By David Goll

Four years into his tenure at San Jose State University’s Lucas Graduate School of Business, David Steele oversees a program that contributes a total of 1,400 graduating students annually into the Silicon Valley work force.

Although it is the oldest public university business school west of the Mississippi River, Steele said San Jose State University dwells “in the shadow of Stanford and Berkeley.” He has instituted what he called his “3 R” strategy to make his program more competitive with those programs — focusing on improving reputation, revenue diversification and research. That has included spending more money advertising and promoting the program, as well as increasing academic requirements and size of the school’s endowment.

Steele said on the more conventional side, he promotes the Lucas Graduate School by selectively buying print advertising in local publications. But technological advances have created some new avenues for student recruitment.

“Our biggest recruiting tool today is Facebook,” Steele said. “We’re also paying Google a lot of money to come up on the first page when people type in Silicon Valley MBA or Bay Area MBA. And on LinkedIn, we have a good track record reaching our target audience of people who earned their undergraduate degrees at least five years ago.”

Steele said he considers the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University his biggest rival for students. But as a way to enhance the Lucas Graduate School’s reputation, Steele said he has raised entrance requirements, increasing the minimum score on the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) from 500 to 550 and up to 575 later this year.

“That should help increase the quality of our overall program, but it can come at the expense of market share, so we have to be careful,” Steele said.

On the purely quantitative side, student numbers are down these days, at least on the undergraduate side, due to several consecutive years of reductions in state support. Overall, campus enrollment has had to be cut from 32,000 in 2008 to 28,000 today. Undergraduate business students now number 1,000 fewer than four years ago, though the Lucas Graduate School enrollment has remained steady at 750 students. Annual tuition for grad students is about $30,000, a bargain compared to local private universities like Stanford, where annual tuition can top $50,000.

“Fifteen years ago, our program received 80 percent of its funding from the state,” Steele said. “Today, it’s 45 percent.”

Fortunately, the program has attracted major outside support in recent years, including a $10 million gift from alumni Donald and Sally Lucas in 2006 and $5 million from another graduate, Gary Sbona, the following year.

San Jose State also embarked on its first ever large-scale private fundraising campaign in recent years and has raised $166 million toward a goal of $200 million. The Lucas Graduate School’s portion of that is $50 million, he said.

“Eighty percent of the contributions come from individuals and it’s almost all coming from alumni,” Steele said. “With the drop in public support, private fundraising has become an issue of survival. We’ve got to raise it on the outside.”

As it was in 2008, accounting and management remain the largest specialty fields of study for Lucas Graduate School students. The biggest employers of newly minted San Jose State MBA grads are the giant Silicon Valley tech companies — Apple Inc. , Cisco Systems Inc. , Hewlett-Packard Co. and Oracle Corp. But retailers like Target Corp. , Kohl’s Corp. and Walgreens Co. are also regular employers of graduates with strong management and technical backgrounds.

Steele said his program is always looking to expand the field of employers. Doug Evans, employment specialist in the university’s career center, leads that effort. A recent employment fair he coordinated attracted more than 120 companies to the campus, up from less than 100 two years ago, according to Steele. Evans also arranges for individual interviews between students and employers to further relationships.