MBA program to prep DC congressional staffers

University leaders approved the new Industry MBA degree during a September meeting.

by Nick Wicker

Decades after introducing its last MBA program, the University of Minnesota is building a curriculum aimed at students almost a thousand miles away.

The program, the Industry MBA, is specifically directed at congressional staffers in Washington, D.C. The largely online course promises a degree in one year, and its first cohort will begin in June. Meanwhile, instructors are putting the finishing touches on course specifics.

Most MBA programs generally take two years to complete and cost around $110,000, while the Industry MBA has a price tag of $75,000, said Stephen Parente, associate dean of MBA programs at Carlson School of Management.

Parente said he came up with the idea for the program based on his experience as a congressional staffer in Washington, D.C., in the 1990s.

“A lot of people who go to do a visit on the [Capitol] Hill for the first time are struck by just how young the staffers are,” he said. “It would be great if they knew more.”

The program will educate professionals in Washington, D.C., about highly regulated business sectors like health care and finance, he said. It could also help staffers enter private industries more easily than they would with just a liberal arts degree.

Allison Rochford, a student at the University’s Law School, served as a staffer for both the House of Representatives and the Senate over the course of her five-year career in Washington, D.C.

Rochford said while she always planned to go to law school, many of her fellow staffers went through MBA programs to supplement their Capitol Hill experience.

“Working for Congress, there’s no other experience like it. It’s fast-paced. You’re learning something new every day,” Rochford said. “I think always additional training and additional education helps to inform your decisions and helps to make you a better staffer.”

As many as 25 senior faculty members will teach the new MBA courses, Parente said, adding that the size of that team is uncommon for most programs.

He said although the program is accelerated and covers a wide array of topics, staffers should have time to complete the courses during their time off in the summer.

“I know my friends who have gone to law school part time or MBA school part time have struggled with work-life balance,” Rochford said. “I think having options is great.”

Michael Ramlet, a 2009 Carlson graduate, founded Morning Consult, a media company in Washington, D.C., that specializes in policy and industries like those featured in the Industry MBA program.

Ramlet said he used his business to help Parente — his former professor — spread word of the new MBA program in Washington, D.C.

Ramlet has generated interest among congressional staffers over the past 18 months, he said.

“I think it’s going to be extremely competitive,” he said. “There’s this strong interest in better understanding how the business community and financial services and Wall Street operate.”

At one event last year, Ramlet said, more than 300 White House and congressional staffers attended an information session for the MBA program.

Parente said spreading awareness for Carlson was a main cause for instituting the program so geographically far away.

The Board of Regents approved the program at a meeting in September.

At the meeting, Parente said the new MBA program could push Carlson into the top 20 business schools nationwide. The school is currently tied for the 27th spot by U.S. News and World Report.

“We’re never going to be Stanford or Harvard, but … we do compete against Duke and Chicago and Northwestern,” Parente said. “The East Coast doesn’t know us that well.”