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An Inside Look into Fort Hays's College of Business and Entrepreneurship: Extended Interview with Dean Mark Bannister

Mark Bannister of FHSU's College of Business and EntrepreneurshipMark Bannister, Dean of Fort Hays State University's College of Business and Entrepreneurship, previously shared his insights on the inner workings of a business school. As Bannister stated, engaging in fundraising efforts and community-building activities and building relationships with other institutions can help strengthen a business school's value. He joined us again to talk more about the academic side of Fort Hays's MBA program and some benefits of pursuing an online MBA.

I noticed that you have a Master of Communications Studies and a Juris Doctorate and that you served as the Chief of Staff for the president of the Kansas Senate, and I was wondering what made you decide then to become the Dean of the College of Business and Entrepreneurship at Fort Hays?

Oh, life's an interesting process. I have an educational family background; both my parents were teachers, my mother was a professor, and I ended up practicing telecommunications and intellectual property law in a number of the roles that I was in. I ended up then chairing for what's now the Department of Informatics here at Fort Hays State University, and that grew from a very small, very new department to a department with over 400 students. And that makes up one of our key departments within the College of Business and Entrepreneurship, and when the deanship came open, I had a number of faculty from across the college encourage me to apply.

Do you feel that what you learned in your professional business has helped you with your current position?

Well, I think so. And I've been involved in a number of businesses along the way that really don't show up on my general bio. I have done a lot of consulting, and I've also been a part of some family-owned business that are involved with agriculture, with energy and with real estate.

What do you feel separates your school from others out there?

I think that there are a number of factors that separate us from other schools. One is that I think we have a culture of innovation. Much of academia tends to be mired into doing the same thing over and over again and finds change to be very difficult. At times, we face some of those challenges, but typically, our culture is one of innovation and adaptation.

We also, I think, are an institution that prides itself on our teaching quality first. Certainly, there are other institutions that do so, as well, but that is part of who we are and why we're here. We believe research is important, but it is something that serves to keep us current in the classroom and to strengthen what we're able to do for students as opposed to something that distracts us from teaching.

And the, I think, final component is that - or, I guess final components are that we have a focus on entrepreneurship that only a handful of institutions around the country have taken. We really believe that this is very important for the future of our students; it's very much aligned with our mission. And finally, we have international activities that most institutions are not involved with. We have strong ties in China, and we also have relationships with institutions in Turkey, the United Kingdom, and other countries around the world that we think help to - I guess help us illustrate to students really how global the economy is and the advantages of being knowledgeable and capable and playing in the global economy.

With all of those global connections, do you have a lot of students who graduate and go to other countries to work?

We do have some - particularly those that have been part of our China MBA fellowship. Many of those students have gotten the international bug after spending a year abroad in China, and some have ended up taking jobs in China or Thailand or the Middle East or Europe, others in U.S. companies that are internationally facing.

I also saw that your university started offering an online MBA program in 2009; what led your school to decide that this would be a worthwhile program to offer to students?

Well, as a rural university with a large service territory, Fort Hays State University has been a leader in distance education out of necessity. To reach our constituent population, distance learning has been important, and it turns out that when you produce good quality that you can reach around the world. Most of our target is a domestic audience for our distance learning MBA, but we have students from coast to coast and some really exciting diversity in our online MBA program.

If it weren't for the fact that you are a rural university, do you think that Fort Hays would have held back on offering an online program for a little bit more?

It might have. We have a number of other programs that have been distance learning programs for a longer period of time, so we've kind of been, you know, swept into the university's momentum, but there are a growing number of very quality institutions that have entered the distance learning MBA market -- we're lucky to have been one of the first and have had some first-mover advantage and some advantage from the experience we've gained through our offerings.

I noticed that your school offers about nine different concentrations for MBA students. Have you noticed any trends as to which are the most popular with students, and are there any of these that you wish would be more popular and some of them moved to the background?

Well, the answer to the first question is that our finance MBA is the most popular, and then I would say a general management MBA after that. We've had some cycling; a few years ago, the cybersecurity concentration was very hot, but its enrollments have fallen somewhat, probably due to changes in the external market. We're kind of like a business that is testing the waters with products to see which have demand, which work and how we should deploy our resources, and we have some concentrations, such as the Tourism and Hospitality Management, that are relatively new and have a low enrollment that we hope will take off. If they don't, we'll redeploy those resources.

I was watching the video that you put together describing your MBA program and you say that the goal for it is to "produce business leaders who are forward-thinking and world-ready." There are many in the business world, however, that say that there's a lack of qualified leaders in the business world. Have you noticed a disconnect between what academia teaches students and what the business world wants them to have when they actually enter it?

I think that there traditionally has been a gap between business and academia. That's something we're very conscious of and trying to close or avoid as much as possible. We have a college dean's level advisory council and then departmental advisory councils. We take actions to encourage our faculty to interact with the business community both regionally and nationally so that ideally, our faculty is aware and aligned with business needs.

In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of a postsecondary institution (at the graduate level) that students should use to choose where they will attend?

I think that there are several factors. Probably the most important for any particular student is a program fit - are the offerings aligned with the student's end goals, and are the faculty that are instructing those courses qualified and, I guess, experienced in the area that the student's interested in developing expertise.

What is something you'd like our audience to know about Fort Hays State University?

I think that the key message that I'd like the audience to take away is that our focus is on outcomes, that we're very conscious of our student learning, we're very conscious of student career success, and that we work as a faculty to do everything we can to assure quality of learning and then a successful career following graduation.

Interview with Mark Bannister, Dean of the College of Business and Leadership at Fort Hays State University, conducted by Jamar Ramos, MBAPrograms.org, July 11, 2013