What makes MSU's business program so good for veterans – Lansing State Journal

EAST LANSING — When Ben Jurek graduated from high school, he knew he wanted to help people. Serving his country was the path he chose.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army as a specialist, deploying to Jordan in 2017. There, he provided education and training on first aid and security to Syrian refugees.
Through that work, he learned how acutely water scarcity affects some communities. When he returned to the States, he joined Drink Local Drink Tap, a Cleveland-based nonprofit that supplies Ugandan villages with clean drinking water and sanitation.
Now, after earning an education degree from the University of Toledo, Jurek is in his first year of Michigan State University’s Master’s in Management, Strategy and Leadership (MSL), an online program run through the Eli Broad College of Business. He hopes the degree allows him to advance in the nonprofit world, specifically as an executive director for a program that helps veterans like himself.
MSU’s MSL program has become a magnet for veterans like Jurek. A non-MBA program, it recently earned its highest placement yet in U.S. News and World Report’s rankings for online grad programs for veterans at No 3.
Jurek is already noticing the program’s impact on his work two semesters in.
“The program has been really helpful in making me a more well-rounded individual,” he said. “It’s helped me understand different approaches to management, how to speak to others and how to properly lead in a business environment.”
Often due to location constraints, veterans and active-duty military enroll in online business programs across the country. 
Since MSU launched the MSL program eight years ago, 149 veterans have gone through it, about 15% of all graduates. Additionally, 150 active-duty members have completed the program.
Beau McNeff, a former captain in the U.S. Army Reserves, tunes in for his courses from Kansas City, Missouri. He already has a master’s degree and more than 15 years’ experience in health care, but enrolled in the MSL program to bone up on leadership strategy.
The degree will come in handy in his post-military career. McNeff is the president of Spira Care, which offers a combination of primary care and insurance for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City members. 
He’s only been on the job 90 days, a position his enrollment in the business program helped him land.
“The program really has already helped me in my career just three semesters in,” McNeff said.
The MSL program focuses on developing managerial skills, leadership and strategic thinking, said Glenn Hodges, an assistant professor and director of the program.
The 30-credit program can be completed in five semesters, or roughly 20 months if the classes are taken as recommended, Hodges said. About 60% of graduates complete the program in that time. 
It consists of sequential five-week course modules, which allow students to focus on one class at a time, Hodges said, rather than juggling two or three at once. That’s a benefit for military personnel and executives with full schedules.
It also allows students to drop just one module rather than several if issues arise in their lives, putting them behind just five weeks rather than an entire semester, Hodges said. 
McNeff appreciates the program’s understanding of its students. When he was transitioning to his new job as president at Spira Care, he needed to take a couple classes off to focus. He met no pressure to continue the classes and was encouraged to come back once he was ready. 
“The program itself … it’s flexible and it’s bringing me to the right outcomes I’m looking for,” he said.
That flexibility has helped military members graduate at substantial rates. The program boasts an annual graduation rate between 80% and 90%, Hodges said.
MSU has “demonstrated success engaging and graduating its (MSL) students, placing it among the top-ranked online master’s in business programs,” said Eric Brooks, a principal data analyst for U.S. News and World Report, in a statement.
“Michigan State performed especially well in the Veterans ranking because of the financial aid benefits it makes available to its ample contingent of enrolled veteran and active service-members,” Brooks continued. 
Those benefits include the Yellow Ribbon Program, a federal program through which MSU and the government cover the out-of-state portion of veterans’ tuition not covered by the GI Bill. The program can save out-of-state veterans nearly $9,000 on tuition, according to Rachel Lee Cherry, communications editor for the Broad College of Business.
MSU also offers a 10% military tuition savings for its online master’s degree through the business school, according to Hodges. It’s available to active duty service members, reservists, guardsmen, veterans, military spouses and dependents of deceased or disabled veterans and amounts to a $3,270 savings.
There are a few requirements veterans, active duty members and other prospective students must meet for the MSL program. They must have a minimum of three years’ experience in a supervisory role, but Hodges said three years of responsible service in the military will also be considered.
Additionally, students must have earned a bachelor’s degree, hold a minimum undergraduate cumulative GPA of 3.0 and have significant potential to advance to an organizational leadership role, among other prerequisites. 
Once they’re in, students will find themselves among top researchers and faculty. Veterans and active duty military members take courses with other military members, including some faculty and staff who’ve served.
Hodges himself never enlisted, but his father spent four years in the U.S. Navy and he has close friends who’ve served. Their service helps motivate him to offer a program that aims to improve the lives of the students and the veterans who enroll. 
“Our society owes a debt of gratitude to veterans, and from that standpoint, not only should academic institutions be working to serve them, but businesses as well,” he said. “The reality is they’re great employees. Businesses should be seeking them out.”
Contact Mark Johnson at (517) 377-1026 or majohnson2@lsj.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ByMarkJohnson.


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