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'Mini' Master's Classes Are One Way Some Job Hunters Seek an Edge

'Mini' Master's Classes Are One Way Some Job Hunters Seek an Edge

Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

If an MBA is a major asset in getting a good job, hundreds of students in the Twin Cities hope a mini MBA will give them at least a minor edge in their job hunts.

At the University of St. Thomas, the Mini MBA Program is a 52-hour version of the master’s in business administration degree, typically a two-year program. The mini MBA is geared more to people who want to sharpen their skills and freshen their resumes. Increasingly, students who sign up for the class are either unemployed or nervous about the possibility.

Of the 24 students in one mini-MBA class that started last month, 18 are jobless. These aren’t kids fresh out of school: If their demographics track with those of the other 4,000 St. Thomas students taking nondegree business programs, their average age is 44, and nearly nine of 10 already have a bachelor’s degree or better, including about four in 10 who have a postgraduate degree. Coming from backgrounds in sales, marketing, information technology, insurance and real estate, the students think the program will give them an edge.

As part of the “Watchdog: Your Next Job” project, the Watchdog is examining ways job seekers are coping in this economy. This piece looks at how people who already have a good education are returning to school to enhance their skills.

Thousands of students, many of them subsidized by state and federal funds, are in short-time noncredit business classes around the Twin Cities.

The University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management’s programs have no prerequisites and are designed for students who want to focus on specific knowledge or skills, rather than a degree or a credential; the bulk of these programs are conducted in 2 1/2 to four days. Often it’s the company that sends the employee to the class — and pays the tuition. But, like at the University of St. Thomas, individuals also sign up.

“Many people are taking our programs specifically because they want to shore themselves up and secure their careers,” said Mark Kizilos, assistant dean for executive education at Carlson. But most of the U’s students are still employed, he said: “They’re wanting to get or maintain an edge as opposed to get back into the game.”

Steve Koenig, of Edina, graduated from college 21 years ago and most recently worked at a manufacturing firm until he was laid off in August. During his job hunt, he has noticed many job postings indicate a master’s degree in business administration is preferred.

“They have too many people (applying),” he said. “They’ve just got to draw a line in the sand.”

So he’s hoping a fresh academic credential — even if it’s not a full MBA — will set him apart from the pack.

Kim Ritter, of Apple Valley, wants to change her line of work, from real estate property management to compliance monitoring and auditing.

“I always dreamed of getting a business degree,” she said, and this course will get her started.

For both Koenig and Ritter, networking with other students and the instructors is another reason to sign up for the $2,495 course.

St. Thomas, whose business graduate school is in downtown Minneapolis, has offered a mini MBA since the 1980s. But a simulation business game, introduced last year, brings a new dynamic. It was developed by David Steenstra, a professor at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich., who teaches the first class and picks the eventual winner.

Students split into teams of about six, and they all start with the same hiking shoe company with identical financials. Their competing companies immediately become different as each team makes its own decisions, such as how much of the budget to put into research and development versus dividends. During each class, the students also wrestle with ethical scenarios facing their companies.

Their decisions are run through a computer model after each class, and students learn from their companies’ successes and mistakes, as well as from lectures on finance, marketing, strategic planning and other business elements.

At the first class, students were quiet, and some seemed shy. Many hadn’t been in a formal academic setting in decades and found the concepts and vocabulary a bit unclear. But by the fourth class, the teams were in tense discussions, whispering among themselves to keep the other teams from stealing their strategies for the next round of decisions.

“You make the learning experience rigorous and relevant, and give them a chance to apply it,” said Durwin Long, assistant dean of executive and professional development.

Since 1988, about 10,000 students have gone through St. Thomas’ various “minis”: from a mini master’s of marketing management to a mini master’s of faith-based programs. This year, the university is offering about 200 noncredit executive-education and professional-development courses, some as short as a day or two and others spread out over a full week or in the evening for several weeks.

Thomas Van Eaton, of Marine on St. Croix, joined 3M fresh out of college and was laid off after nearly 25 years, most recently as a business manager in the optical systems division. Last fall, he went through the mini-MBA program, fully paid by state and federal funds, and credits it with helping him land a new job — and with keeping up his spirits during the 14 months he was job hunting.

“(You) have to demonstrate what you have been doing to your potential employer … keeping your technical and business skills up to date,” he said. The program caught interviewers’ attention, he said.

At his new job, Van Eaton is a district manager for Maxcell International, which manufactures and sells equipment used on Web processing equipment.

Taking the short program has made him interested in earning a full MBA. For now, though, he has signed up for another course, this one the mini master’s in marketing.


The University of St. Thomas offers about 200 executive-education and professional-development courses throughout the year. The courses, which have no prerequisites, cost from $500 to more than $3,000. The university provides all of its programs to dislocated workers at a 15 percent discount. And alumni get a 33 percent price break. For more information, go to or call 651-962-4600.

The Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota offers open-enrollment classes as short as a half-day, for $495, to three weeks ($14,000). Carlson School alumni receive a 20 percent discount, and dislocated workers receive an additional 15 percent off. For more information, see

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