The Year in Review

Dear Friends,

As the new millenium approaches I thought I might reflect on the college's past achievements as a way to speculate about the future. The recent years have not been easy for the college, but some hard-won advances promise significant gains in the near term.

We continue to be blessed with good students, attracted to campus by the reputation of the university and the college. At the graduate level we attract a large contingent of international students (40 % in the MBA program). At the undergraduate level we continue to enroll over 90 percent of our students from Illinois and do not see this mix changing significantly in the near future. We are pleased with our bright, hard-working, talented students. Their quality shines in the classroom and in the contributions they make through student organizations. And they bring home more than their fair share of campus honors.

For the first time in a few years the total number of undergraduate students in the college is over 3,000. This number reflects a bumper crop of freshmen and a large number of transfer students. The continuing demand for entrance into Commerce, by freshmen and transfer students from other colleges on campus, as well as from other institutions of higher learning, places a strain on our teaching capacity. And we see no let-up in sight.

One of the added attractions in Commerce is the growing success of placement activity through Commerce Career Services. Every year the number of recruiters who come to campus to interview our students increases. The Commerce Career Fair, held for two days at the beginning of each semester, accommodates approximately 200 companies and is attended by about 1,500 students per day. Some of you may remember when we had only one a year and how we struggled to get enough employer representation to make it worth the time.

We remained in the second 25 in the Business Week rankings of MBA programs, though we did not fare so well in the U.S. News and World Report rating. Our fall from the top 50 spurred a reassessment, which has resulted in a planned retrenchment. We dropped our entering class size by nearly a third and restricted our international component to 40 percent. Based on the recommendations of outside consultants, we are considering other changes in the future. For now, the smaller class size provides some breathing room while we complete revisions to our focused second year tracks.

Despite economic problems in Asia, enrollment in our international master's programs is strong. What the future will bring we dare not predict. Our plan to shrink the size of our doctoral programs continues. Those students who do receive Ph.D.s are placed at peer schools. Increasing demand for business faculty, however, may cause us to allow our doctoral programs to grow once again.

Faculty continue to be at the center of all our programs. Despite their two-course a semester teaching load they continue to maintain rigorous research programs. This report chronicles some of their recent honors. Among the benefits of Campaign Illinois are the number of new chairs and professorships the college has gained. These named positions help us stay competitive.

A new challenge our faculty face today is the incorporation of technology into instruction. Providing the necessary hardware and software in this rapidly changing environment is a constant challenge. It is also a major priority. To date, we have refitted three large lecture rooms with plug-in jacks for laptop computers. As part of the renovation of Com West, made possible by a gift from Al and Jane Wohlers, we are creating infrastructure to support future technology. Docking stations will be placed in classrooms and in the Commerce Library to support the use of the databases we now have on-line for faculty and student use. The renovation will also increase the number of classrooms that contain multimedia equipment.

Distance learning is no longer a futuristic dream. Our Executive MBA program, a pioneer in this venture, already beams courses to remote sites. A recent offering, by Professor Steve D'Arcy (finance) is described in this report. And, a grant to the Department of Finance to develop a certificate program in Financial Engineering may eventually lead to a degree program over the `net. We will develop more of these programs in the future — as rapidly as our resources permit.

Some of these resources will have to come from alumni and friends. Much of the progress we already enjoy has been made possible with your gifts. We offer a heartfelt "Thank You" to all of you who support us. Your future support will allow us to remain leaders in our field. Technology has transformed business school teaching from text-book-based lecture courses to an interactive multimedia experience. Unfortunately, budgets have yet to reflect these developments, so we must rely on you. The record-breaking success of our Annual Fund in FY 98 gives us new hope.

There you have it! The college is well positioned to provide leading-edge educational experiences to our students in the next century. Your generosity has helped us get where we are, and we are most grateful. As you benefited from the consideration of others during your four years here, so new students with similar expectations have come to take your place, hoping for similar assistance. Judging from your past support, we look forward to a bright future.

Thank you and best wishes to all of you for health and happiness in the New Year.

With warmest regards,

Howard Thomas, Dean and James F. Towey
Distinguished Professor of Strategic Management

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College of Commerce & Business Administration
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign