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Monday, May 20, 2024
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SDSU Hotel Program Has Near-Perfect Placement

While career counselors at San Diego State University are predicting that the chances of graduates securing employment are better than they’ve been in five years, the university’s Hospitality & Tourism Management Program is able to boast that nearly all of its graduating class had jobs lined up before they donned caps and gowns.

Joyce Gattas, the dean of San Diego State’s College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts, attributes much of the success of the 4-year-old program to the financial support it has received from private-sector businesses.

The program comes under the university’s Professional Studies and Fine Arts college, as well as its business college. Graduates earn a bachelor of science degree in hospitality management.

“This is a model of how universities should work and engage with the community,” Gattas said. “We worked closely with industries to create the programs they told us they were looking for.”

On May 21, when the Hospitality & Tourism Management graduating class of 60 was to receive their degrees, some 98 percent had landed jobs, while many had “the problem of choosing from multiple offers,” said Carl Winston, the program’s director.

“A couple of students didn’t seek jobs,” Winston said. “They decided to spend the summer backpacking across Europe instead.”

Added Gattas: “They know they’re in demand, so they can pick and choose.”

The starting salaries the program’s grads were offered average about $35,000 annually, and nearly 70 percent took jobs in San Diego, Winston said.

“We’re part of the solution for the hospitality industry’s problem of having to recruit out of state,” he added. “How do you say, ‘Welcome to San Diego, your rent has just tripled?’

“Our kids are used to the sticker shock, and the ones who are graduating and getting jobs are now happy in the knowledge they can pare down the number of roommates they have.”


Program Counts On Private Dollars

Since it began in the fall of 2001, the Hospitality & Tourism Management Program, which is geared toward careers in the restaurant, hotel and events industries, has received about $4 million in private funding, Winston said.

Gattas said the university spent about $750,000 in the current academic year to help fund the program and will spend roughly the same amount next year.

“Because of the private support, we can do things we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise,” Gattas said.

The financing is being spent to attract nationally renowned industry professionals to teach for a semester and to give lectures, Gattas said.

In addition to the private funding are wages that local restaurants, hotels and event companies pay the program’s students for the internship requirement that gives them 600 hours of on-the-job training, Winston said. He calls the San Diego firms that provide the internships “our industry partners.”

The Cohn Restaurant Group, which currently has 10 San Diego eateries and will soon add an 11th locally, has helped fund the program and offers internships to the program’s students as well.

David Cohn, who heads the San Diego-based firm, said the program is helping to supply the tourism and hospitality industry with “high caliber college graduates who have a real-life view, not just a textbook view of the business.”

Other corporations that have donated funding to the program and provided jobs to its students include Ladeki Restaurant Group of San Diego and Dallas-based Chili’s Grill & Bar. The list also includes the Marriott, Hilton and Starwood corporations, Evans Hotel Group, Terry Brown, owner of the Town & Country Hotel, PRA Destination Management, and SeaWorld San Diego.

Winston said thanks are due to the program’s full-time placement center , funded by private dollars , which matches students with off-campus jobs and helps them find employment after graduation.


No Day At The Beach

One of the chief reasons Hospitality & Tourism Management graduates are in high demand, Winston said, is that the curriculum is demanding, and those who are merely above average don’t make the grade.

“Our program is one of the most rigorous in the country,” Winston said. “If our students don’t maintain a B average in their first two years, we actually kick them out.”

Winston, who attended Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration in Ithaca, N.Y. , the first in the country , said he recently traveled there to “benchmark and take notes.”

“What we can do in San Diego that Cornell and other schools can’t is use our industry partners in San Diego as laboratories for our students,” he said.

Some 300 universities across the nation have hospitality and tourism management schools or programs. The largest is at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, which has about 3,000 students enrolled. Some have as few as 100. San Diego State plans to cap the program’s enrollment at 450, which Winston said would put it in the midrange in terms of size.

“I know all my students by name and I know where they work and the personalization that we offer students is very attractive to them,” he said. “We want to be big enough to be able to afford resources and provide a mix of classes, but we don’t want to be a factory.

“We want to provide top management talent. Our students will start at entry level, but they won’t stay there.”

During the 2004-05 academic year, the program had three full-time and six adjunct faculty members teaching 300 students. Plans are to begin recruiting three more full-time faculty members in the fall of 2005 to teach the following fall.

“When we started in the fall of 2001, we had 13 students,” Winston said. “There were 32 students in our first graduating class last May and our goal is to graduate about 100 a year, which we’ll hit in about two years.”

Gattas said that fund raising for the program continues and she expects to be able to make an announcement on its efforts within the next 12 to 18 months.


Overall Job Outlook Improves

Preston Chipps, an interim associate director of career services at San Diego State, said he anticipates the job market for its nearly 9,600 May graduates is the best it has been since 2000.

To back up the projection, he cited a 12 percent increase in recruitment visits to San Diego State by off-campus employers during the current academic year compared with the earlier year.

Among those graduating during ceremonies from May 19-22, 7,532 were to receive bachelor’s degrees, 2,130 were candidates for master’s degrees and 57 were doctoral candidates.

San Diego State is the county’s largest university, with a 2004-05 enrollment of 33,391 full- and part-time students.

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