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Is going back to school right for you?

Continuing education evolves to meet professional objectives

Mike Taylor //November 7, 2016//

Is going back to school right for you?

Continuing education evolves to meet professional objectives

Mike Taylor //November 7, 2016//

Going back to school as a mid-career professional isn’t what it used to be. Now, along with graduate programs in areas such as business administration, accounting and finance, there are certification tracks for computer programming and software coding that are designed – and often guaranteed – to yield high-paying jobs upon completion. Even the time-honored MBA, once viewed chiefly as a stepping stone to upper-management, is increasingly a chosen path for budding entrepreneurs as well.

Of course, the internet continues to influence how higher education is delivered and consumed. An early pioneer of online education, Colorado State University’s College of Business was recognized as an outstanding provider of online graduate education programs by U.S. News and World Report for 2016. CSU’s College of Business also offers six on-campus graduate business programs and an Executive MBA Program in Denver.

According to Sanjay Ramchander, associate dean for academic programs at CSU, more than 80 percent of students from the school’s Online Professional MBA program report a pay increase of $10,000 or more after graduation.

The University of Colorado has long been known for fostering alliances between academic research and commercial enterprise. The school’s Office of Industry Collaboration promotes and supports synergistic opportunities for engagement between CU Boulder and industry, whether it’s helping a company identify an academic partner or prospective employees, develop employee education and training opportunities, cultivate new product ideas, or promote itself to future employees and customers.

Turning ideas and innovation into viable businesses is the essence of entrepreneurism. The University of Denver Daniels College of Business showed its commitment to that process as it hosted three events at Denver Startup Week in mid-September. The school even brought in entrepreneurs and venture capitalists from Israel to speak on subjects such as “Entrepreneurial Ecosystems Across Borders,” “Energy, Clean Tech and a Secure Energy Future in the U.S. and Israel,” and “Investment, Capital and International Economic Partnerships.”

Among other area campuses with offerings catering to enterprise-minded students, the University of Colorado Denver Business School offers an MBA with specialization in entrepreneurship. UCD’s Jake Jabs Center for Entrepreneurship is described by the school as a “new idea laboratory” geared to students looking to start their own businesses.

A highlight of the center is the Jake Jabs Business Plan Competition for collegiate startups based in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico and Arizona, as well as non-collegiate startups in Colorado. Dubbed THE CLIMB, the event is a five-stage competition that helps entrepreneurs transform concepts into viable businesses through mentorship, education, financial support and real-world business exchanges.

Within DU is University College, the college of professional and continuing studies that provides accredited educational experiences online or evenings on campus, specifically designedfor busy adults.

“We have been seeing sustained growth in information technology program areas; specifically, web design and development, IT security, and software design and programming,” says University College Dean Michael McGuire. “Also, the field of communication management is very hot right now with students gravitating toward the areas of marketing communication and public relations.

"A third area that is very popular is health-care leadership. In all three of these areas, we have seen an acceleration of interest from students around content that deals with data analytics. Also, all of these sectors have been and will continue to be very dynamic environments in which to work, which makes lifelong learning and continuously retooling skill sets a necessity for professionals in those fields.”

Metro State University of Denver has taken steps along the lines of DU’s entrepreneur-based programs to accommodate students who intend to go into business for themselves or become innovative leaders of existing organizations, as MSU offers an undergraduate degree in entrepreneurship and innovation.

How one EMBA student turned improv into a business

Often the classroom – whether it’s virtual or literal – can be a place of self-discovery and open career doors not even considered. Bruce Montgomery wasn’t expecting to launch his own business when he set out in pursuit of an Executive MBA from DU’s Daniels College of Business. At the time, he was director of IT for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, and moving up in the IT world seemed like a logical step. But Montgomery did something entirely different with the EMBA he earned in 2013 and the advice he received from some Daniels College of Business professors.

“I was a professional theater actor in New York City for seven years,” says Montgomery, who started improvising in 2005 with some instruction from a former Second City teacher, an improvisational comedy troupe from Chicago. During a leadership class, Montgomery was challenged by professor Scott McLagan to turn something he loved into a business. Soon after, he launched ExperienceYes, which uses the tools of improv as a basis for new idea generation and creating stronger teams in the business world.

“Studies show that the way to have a good, useful idea is to have lots of ideas,” he says. “In our workshops we’ve been able to increase idea generation up to 82 percent.”

Montgomery explains that this approach saved clients millions of dollars and increases customer loyalty.

ExperienceYes, which currently consists of Montgomery and his wife, Gail, has worked with Fortune 100 companies like DaVita, DirecTV and Comcast. The couple also just published a book, “Brain Disruption: Radical Innovation in Business Through Improv” (available on Amazon and Kindle).

“It’s the culmination of all of the work we’ve done with our clients – and it’s got very practical exercises that can get organizations moving the innovation needle immediately,” Montgomery says.

McLagan, who has has been a professor at the Daniels College of Business for 12 years, says stories like Montgomery’s are common.

   “The students in the EMBA program are generally mid-career and have excellent business experience.  The program often ignites a passion to start their own business, provides the opportunity to refine their business idea and gives them the confidence to follow through.”

   “We’re right on the precipice of some explosive growth, and I know that we couldn’t have done this alone,” Montgomery says. Montgomery says fellow students in his Entrepreneurism class helped him craft his business plan, and ongoing guidance from professors has been critical.

   “Within the first eight months of launching my business, I was able to pay back all of my student loans,” he says. “I’d consider that a fantastic return on investment.”