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SDSU’s Biz College Enters Golden Era

BY ERICKA CHICKOWSKI

As the first accredited business school in the California State University system, the San Diego State University College of Business Administration set a precedent of success from the start.

The 2005-06 school year marks the 50th anniversary for the college, and it is clear that the business school hasn’t strayed from its original mission.

The school’s programs in undergraduate international business and graduate entrepreneurship are ranked among the top programs in the country by

U.S. News and World Report.

Its students’ CPA exam scores recently ranked fifth in the nation. And with an enrollment of 5,500 students, it is one of the largest business schools in the nation.

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Best of all, says the school’s dean, Gail Naughton, is the fact that more than 60 percent of those students stay in the San Diego area after graduation.

“I think that is one of the most exciting things about this 50th anniversary,” Naughton said. “As we work with business leaders in town, they are looking at students in various programs that focus on the growing needs of San Diego, and they are very interested in hiring these students and keeping them in town. After all, this is an expensive town, and if talent is here already, it helps business tremendously.”

Hence, “50 Years of Educating San Diego’s Business Leaders,” a yearlong celebration hosted by the college, is set to kick off with a keynote luncheon Aug. 17. Headlining the event is San Diego State business alumnus Jim Sinegal, the founder and chief executive officer of Costco Inc.

Costco is the nation’s fifth-largest retailer, and Sinegal is known as a leader who eschews today’s bloated executive paycheck and who celebrates contributions from front-line employees. Costco hires its management almost exclusively from within.

“We’re all products of our environments, all products of our total experience,” said Sinegal, who credits his business philosophies at least in part to his experience at San Diego State. “I had a lot of great business mentors and I’m still connected with many of the people who I worked and learned with during those years.”


Valued Cause

Sinegal is a member of the business school’s board and continues to contribute his time, because he believes that a state school of high caliber is something to be treasured.

“I could have ill afforded to go to another school outside of the state,” said Sinegal, who had to put himself through college. “To be able to attend such a fine school for virtually a pittance is a wonderful gift.”

Naughton said the school continues to provide a quality education tailored to the local student by focusing on programs that translate directly to the San Diego economy.

“Back when the school was accredited, we were a Navy and government contract town,” she said. “We focused on a strong general business education, things like accounting and business management. Today we have a different focus because we cater to what San Diego is today and what it wants to be in the future.”

For example, Naughton says that the school has focused on its entrepreneurial program because more than 95 percent of the area’s businesses are small-entrepreneurial companies. And due to the growing global economy and San Diego’s proximity to the border and to major Pacific Rim shipping lanes, the school has also focused on international business.

Julie Meier Wright, the president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp., and another member of the college’s board, said the constant collaboration with local businesses is the school’s biggest strength.

“This is a region of small, innovative companies that are very important to the economic future,” she said. “As a state university, it is a major work-force provider. Having a school that pays attention to growth industries is very important.”

Allan Bailey agreed. A former dean of the school and currently the chief financial officer for San Diego State’s Campanile Foundation, Bailey has seen the school evolve over the years. Not only has the school developed key programs to fill industry needs, it also has slowly changed the way it teaches.

“One of the things that has happened over the last 20 years is that business education has moved out of the classroom so that a lot of the experience students get is community-based,” he said.

The exposure and collaboration have helped the school improve curriculum and draw attention from contributors. Bailey said on average, the college nets $2 million to $3 million a year in donor support. The donor group usually falls into three categories: alumni, people from the community who believe in investing in local educational causes, and companies that see these contributions as an investment in their future work force.

Last year, San Diego-based Corky McMillin Cos. pledged $1.5 million over three years to endow a chair for real estate at the college. Several members of the McMillin family are San Diego State College of Business alumni, including Vice President Mark McMillin.

The school will depend on donors as it begins its quest to build a 170,000-square-foot building. The project will be funded by state and non-state sources, and the college is in the middle of a multimillion-dollar capital campaign to get it off the ground.

If funding is secured, the project is scheduled to break ground in 2009.


Ericka Chickowski is a freelance writer living in San Diego.


College Prepares toCelebrate 50 Years

Space is still available for the San Diego State University College of Business Administration’s 50th anniversary luncheon. The event is being held at the Mission Valley Sheraton on Aug. 17 at 11:30 a.m. Tickets cost $35 for the general public and $30 for San Diego State alumni. For information, go to www.sdsu.edu/bizalum50.

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