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Business is booming: MBA programs at Houston universities are attracting more international applications
[September 07, 2008]

Business is booming: MBA programs at Houston universities are attracting more international applications

(Houston Chronicle (KRT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Sep. 7--Clara Ortiz Torres had family in Houston, making it easier to leave Colombia for graduate school here.

She quickly found she was in good company as an international student at the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business. There, as at MBA programs around the country, applications from overseas are up.

"In Colombia, we have good schools, but ... in the United States, there are always new perspectives," said Ortiz Torres, 29, who worked at a nonprofit in Colombia for seven years before entering graduate school at the University of Houston. "Our industries and our businesses are growing. The knowledge I get here will be very useful to my own people."

Classmate Tzu-Hsiang Su, 30, was an engineer in his native Taiwan before moving to Houston with another goal. "I want to promote myself to management," he said.

Business schools explain the increased interest from students outside the country in several ways: The dollar has dropped in value against the euro and other foreign currencies, making U.S. universities less expensive than in the past. And developing economies, including those in India and China, need management expertise.

"All of these countries have had economic growth for the last four or five years," said Mohan Kuruvilla, associate dean for graduate business programs at Houston Baptist University. "They are all gifted with intellectual capital. What they're lacking is Western management styles. People who get that knowledge are going to be well off."

Oil long has drawn students from around the world to Houston, said Daniel Currie, executive director of graduate and professional programs at the UH Bauer College of Business.

"You get a lot of people from other countries that are involved in the energy business and, by nature, they're focused on Houston," he said. "Then their kids come (to school) here, or their friends."

Energy drew Anuradha Narayan from her native India to Bauer. "It's in Houston, the energy capital," she said. Eventually, she wants to run her own energy company back home.

MBA programs have become more common at foreign universities over the past decade, said Bill Glick, dean of the Jones School of Management at Rice University. But, he said, students still are drawn to U.S. programs because of their reputations, as well as U.S. business history.

"We understand competition," he said. "We understand how to analyze it."

Narayan described the difference between schools in India and here this way: "In India, it's more theoretical. Here, it is more practical."

Some schools, including Rice and the Anderson School of Management at the University of California at Los Angeles, have stepped up international marketing.

HBU runs chat rooms for interested students from abroad to provide more personal information. "With international applications, there is a fear of the unknown, so we have to have some dialogue," Kuruvilla said. "They want that hand-holding."

Local students got a chance for some "hand-holding" Thursday, when the MBA Tour came to Houston. The organization, a traveling collection of representatives from graduate business programs from the United States and abroad, allows prospective students to meet with people from various schools. Several foreign schools are included on the tour, which is based in Massachusetts and makes stops in cities across the United States and abroad. Peter von Loesecke, the group's chief executive officer, said U.S. programs tend to draw the most interest.

"The history behind some of these institutions is very strong," he said. "People feel belonging to these networks will enhance their careers. ... Having a Western education is a big plus."

But adding international students to a U.S. program requires a balancing act.

A higher number of applications allows a program to be more selective. But schools must consider students' academic and professional histories as well as their English skills, said Mae Jennifer Shores, assistant dean and director of MBA admissions at UCLA's business school.

"We want people who are clearly prepared," she said.

UCLA's MBA program has seen a large jump in applications from foreign students in the past year: a 49 percent increase from Western Europe, 46 percent from Asia and 71 percent from Africa.

Shores and other business school executives say the trend benefits students from the United States, too.

"You hear talk about the global marketplace, and that's absolutely true," said Wendy Flynn, director of MBA admissions at Texas A&M University's Mays School of Business. "To have somebody in your classroom from Romania, from China, from Ireland, it gives you a tremendous world view."

In the past, many international students remained in the U.S. after earning a degree. Now, more graduates are returning home to put their newfound knowledge to work, Kuruvilla said.

Either way, Christina Mabley, director of admissions for the MBA program at UT's McCombs School of Business, said students forge their own business networks in school.

"These days, with the global economy, so much of business school is about the discourse in the classroom," she said. "We try to bring students who've had experience in other countries, to add their expertise."

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