E-Biz: Big Major On Campus

The hottest thing on technology campuses today is the e-commerce business degree, which seems to come in as many varieties as the programs that support it.

The way he sees it, Brian M. Strawbridge is going back to school for free. Sure he's paying $21,000 to earn a master's degree in e-commerce from Boston University. But the 45-year-old marketing-director-turned-Web-developer says that's about half what it would have cost him to create the Web site he's built with the knowledge he's picked up in the classroom. And he expects to make the other half back in income before he even misses it.

"I had a business skill set and 20 years of experience, but no understanding of Web languages," says Strawbridge. Since enrolling in the Boston University program in January last year, Strawbridge has acquired enough database programming skills to do all the coding on his coupon Web site, Thefreeconnection.com.

Programs at a glance
A closer look at the e-commerce programs discussed in this article:

Albers School of Business and Economics at Seattle University Seattle Degree:
Degree: MBA with major in e-commerce
Length: Two years
Tuition: $491 per credit hour. The number of credits required ranges from 55 to 73, depending on the student's ability to waive requirements. The degree, therefore, costs between $27,005 and $35,843.
Boston University's Metropolitan College
Degree: Master of science in e-commerce
Length: 10 courses. Full time, one year; part time, five semesters
Tuition: Full time, $12,900 per semester; part time, $2,100 per class.
Hamilton Holt School at Rollins College
Winter Park, Fla.
Degree: Master of arts in corporate communications and technology
Length: 20 months, with classes only on Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tuition: $15,000 for program
The Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland
College Park, Md.
Degree: MBA, with concentrations in e-service, e-commerce or e-management
Length: Two years
Tuition: Maryland residents, full time, $11,462 per year; nonresidents, full time, $17,000 per year
University of Michigan School of Information
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Degree: Master of science in information economics, management and policy
Length: Two years
Tuition: Michigan residents, $5,411 per year; nonresidents, $10,875 per year

- Michelle Bates Deakin

"The site implementation easily could have cost $40,000," he says. But he saved money because he didn't have to pay for that, plus he receives the "consulting services" of his classmates and professors.
Across the country, graduate programs in e-commerce are popping up like mushrooms after a rain. And like mushrooms, the programs seem to come in endless varieties.
While Boston University focuses on part-time, midcareer students seeking to hone their Internet skills, The Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland has carved out a niche in "e-service." Seattle University's Albers School of Business and Economics focuses on layering hard-core technology skills over business know-how.
"Without understanding technology, what kind of business strategy can you think of these days?" says Bonn-Oh Kim, associate professor and director of e-commerce and information systems at Seattle University.
Most of the e-commerce programs were created at the height of the dot-com boom. But it's the dot-com bust that's driving students back to school.
Students are graduating with skills ranging from programming to marketing and from Web architecture to attracting venture capital. Though veteran dot-commers may have been long on technical skills, many didn't learn fundamental business principles until their companies filed for bankruptcy.
"In economic retrenchment, people go back to school," says Marshall Van Alstyne, assistant professor of information economics at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, noting that applications to that program increased by 30% this year. "Also, folks that are going to do dot-coms know that they're going to have to know what works and what doesn't."
The University of Michigan offers a master's degree in information economics, management and policy, which is an interdisciplinary course of study that combines information science, economics, management, political science, public policy, organizational theory, psychology, ethics and computer science. The school's e-commerce courses overlap with the university's business school and the electrical engineering computer science department.
"We can teach business strategy and information product design, and we can teach hard-core technology," says Van Alstyne.
Like traditional MBA graduates, many business school grads with e-commerce concentrations accept job offers from consulting firms and focus specifically on e-commerce consulting.
At Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., Nathaniel Eberle is finishing up a 20-month master of corporate communication and technology program. A highlight of the course for Eberle was a weeklong field trip to Silicon Valley, during which executives from Apple Computer Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co., among other companies, met with the class to tell war stories and even review resumes.
While some of his classmates seized the opportunity to land jobs during the field trip, Eberle, 24, will wait a few years for the dot-com world to sort itself out before committing to a job. In the meantime, he's heading to West Africa with the Peace Corps.
"I'm hoping to help set up Web pages and do some primitive e-commerce," says Eberle, who envisions helping villagers sell necklaces and clothing over the Web.
Deakin is a freelance writer in Arlington, Mass.

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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