By: Adam Kramer  | 

Syms EMBA Update

Yeshiva University’s Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) enters its fourth year, which presents a perfect opportunity to take stock of this unique program—to look back on the first two graduating classes and track their success upon graduation and to assess the future plans for the EMBA.

The Syms EMBA’s fourth entering class, or cohort, began the two-year program this past summer. Looking closer at the program’s enrollment numbers, the first graduating cohort had fifteen students, followed by six in both the second and third cohorts, with nine in the most recent cohort. Commenting on the slightly larger number of students in the most recent cohort, Professor Andrew Geller, Director of the Syms EMBA, thinks that nine students gives the program a more solid base, and provides more diversity in the types of people who are in the program. Looking forward, Professor Geller would like to at least double the enrollment from nine to 18 for next year’s fifth cohort.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Commentator, Professor Geller spoke about the delegation of responsibility in the Syms EMBA administration. Margie Martin, Associate Director of Masters of Science in Accounting and Executive MBA Programs, handles all administrative tasks. Professor Geller’s tasks fall into one of the two categories. The first is academic tasks, such as ensuring that the program is set up the right way and that professors are teaching the correct material and at the correct level. In Professor Geller’s own terms, this is the “most important part of my job. This is what I want to focus on.” The second category of task is recruiting students. Professor Geller admits that YU’s financial constraints have impacted his ability to market the EMBA, and may have contributed to the smaller number of students in the second, third, and fourth cohorts, but he believes they’ll have more money this coming year for their marketing efforts.

One of the biggest adjustments Professor Geller will make going forward is how the EMBA is brought to market. Initially, Syms primarily advertised in Jewish newspapers, with the goal of inviting potential EMBA candidates to information sessions where they could learn more about the program. Moving forward, Professor Geller will implement a digital media driven strategy whereby he will put more of a focus on continuing to upgrade the EMBA website and setting up social media pages to interact with potential students.

Over the coming weeks, Syms will finalize a formal budget and plan for how best to approach digital marketing to recruit a significantly larger group of students for next summer’s incoming cohort. The EMBA program will work with a consulting firm to contemplate how to position their social media campaign. The use of social media, however, will serve the additional purpose of providing the EMBA program with the analytics necessary to better understand their target market. Syms will use Google analytics to track who is visiting their website, and more specifically, to find out which pages within the site were visited, what their bounce rate was and other such metrics.

One of the primary reasons why people attend an EMBA program is to advance in their careers in a way that without an MBA degree wouldn’t have been possible. As a result, one of the key performance indicators of the success of an EMBA program is how alumni are faring in terms of promotions at companies they already worked for or elsewhere.

Although the second cohort graduated this past spring, Professor Geller cautioned that it’s too soon to really gauge the utility of the EMBA program for them in their career. The first cohort graduated 1-1.5 years ago, so we can tell a little more by looking at their career advancements. Among the students in the first cohort was someone who worked for a large company and needed to have an MBA next to her name to get to the next level professionally. Through matriculating in the EMBA program, she was able to get a promotion within the same company. Other EMBA graduates were able to obtain better jobs in other companies, in industries including professional services and communications. Lastly, a former administrative staff member in the Syms office enrolled in the EMBA program and now works at another university in New York where she has over 20 people reporting to her.

Many have found that the EMBA provides the type of preparation that engenders promotion and leadership positions in their respective fields. In terms of current students, there are three physicians in the program who have enrolled in order to gain the experience necessary to have oversight, or be responsible for running a service or division in a hospital.

Professor Geller doesn’t see a potential promotion as the only reason for why one should enroll in the program. He added that other people didn’t have a reason to leave their current job but felt that they learned valuable skills that will help them in their current job, and can certainly help for future possibilities as well.

Perhaps more impressive than the stories about alumni receiving promotions and new job offers is the following story that Professor Geller told involving a student from the fourth cohort. "One of our students who just started the program at the end of August this year has already received a better, higher paying job at a bigger company with a lot more room for career advancement, in part because he was able to tell his prospective employer that he was now in an EMBA program. That was enough to make a real difference for him."

Professor Geller commented that students have greatly benefitted from the relationships they were able to develop in the Syms EMBA. Additionally, even though the first two cohorts had a substantial difference in number of students (fifteen in the first and six in the second), each cohort liked the groups that they had. Professor Geller remarked that he knows of many students who have continued these relationships and in many cases, have conducted business together since leaving the EMBA program.

Among the kinks that the EMBA program is still working out is the ideal way to conduct classes. In the first and second years, the EMBA program was traditional, in the sense that students met every Sunday, in person, in YU’s Beren Campus. The feedback on this style of program was that it was difficult for people who kept Shabbos to have to give-up their only free day on the weekend each week, for classes. As a result, in the third year of the program, the Syms EMBA cut back on their in-person classes so that now they meet on three out of every four Sundays. With the fourth cohort, the program is designed so that they have in-person classes every other Sunday.

The EMBA program has been able to make this shift by utilizing blended courses, as in courses that meet both in person and online on different days. The third cohort actually liked meeting in person better and didn’t want as many online classes, so Professor Geller stressed that the program will continue with some “brick and mortar” courses, along with blended courses.

On a more macro level, the value of the EMBA program for YU is that once you have a business school, an MBA program of some kind is critical. While YU and Syms do have other masters programs, Professor Geller believes that Syms needs to offer an MBA of some kind since it’s the archetypical degree of a business school. Syms currently has plans to create a traditional MBA program; as well, Syms and YU’s Cardozo School of Law are in the process of collaborating on a joint JD/MBA degree. Since it's still quite early in the process, a lot of the details including the when the new program will start and which faculty members will be involved, are yet to be determined.

People looking at Syms from the outside are able to see a business school with a strong graduate program, including an EMBA program. Professor Geller is proud that the school is offering an EMBA because there’s no other way to have this kind of EMBA program without having classes on Shabbat. For Orthodox Jews this is important, and it's important for YU to provide this service as well.