Bradley University was founded in 1897 with the purpose of providing practical knowledge to students so they might lead independent, industrious, and useful lives. The institution soon realized a business program was essential to that effort, and in 1920, a department of Business Administration and Economics was organized, according to Robert Baer, dean of Bradley University’s Foster College of Business Administration.

“At first, only a two-year course of study was offered, but a four-year program was created in 1923. At that time, there was only one faculty member in business; there were four faculty by 1930 and 15 by 1948. The MBA program began in 1948, a master’s of science in accounting was added in 1995, and an Executive MBA in leadership came in 2001,” he said.

In 1950 the university was reorganized, creating six colleges that included the College of Commerce. The name of the College was changed to the College of Business Administration in 1956 to reflect a more contemporary name for business schools, and in honor of Tom and Ellen Foster, the college was renamed the Foster College of Business Administration in 1994, Baer said.

All of this change is probably indicative of the future, as well, he said. “Change is inevitable. Over the next five to 10 years, I would expect graduate education to become an even more important component of our offerings. Some areas of business are becoming so complex that a bachelor’s degree is no longer sufficient to compete effectively.”

Since its inception, the College has grown to 54 full-time faculty, offering more than 200 business courses, with 1,050 undergraduate and 165 graduate students. “Enrollment is at the highest level in our history, growing 27.7 percent since 1997,” Baer said.

Currently, Baer said the Foster College offers a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of science degree with a choice of nine majors: accounting, actuarial science, business management, business computer systems, economics, finance, international business, marketing, and risk management and insurance. At the graduate level, a master’s of business administration with concentrations in managerial accounting, finance, information technology, management, and marketing; a master’s of science in accounting; and an Executive MBA in leadership are offered. “Regardless of the specific major, all programs emphasize collaboration, teamwork, active learning, and the opportunity to put theory into practice. Every business student completes at least one consulting project for an area firm or nonprofit organization before they graduate.”

In the last three decades, the College has worked its way though three fundamental changes in vision, Baer said. “The first, going back to the 1970s, was when the College decided the curriculum needed to be more rigorous, analytical, and integrated. The next vision entailed developing a more research-oriented and professional faculty to compliment our existing strengths in teaching. The third vision was one in which we became an outreach college with successful programs to assist firms in the region, plus international joint ventures.”

The impetus behind these changes—and most likely future evolutions—involves the major driving forces of globalization and enhanced information technology, he said. “More than their predecessors, the next generation of business students must understand the continuing globalization of business. Beginning in the early 1980s, we moved quickly to internationalize our curriculum, while also being one of the first schools in the nation to establish an undergraduate major in international business. We’ve just established a new International Scholars Program to attract high caliber students to the Foster College.”

Baer said the Information Age has transformed the way people do business, and these changes are transforming the business school classroom. “We’ve responded to the technology challenge by adding online courses to our offerings, investing heavily in technology, ensuring business courses are taught in a technologically rich environment, and ensuring our students graduate prepared to leverage technology.”

He said what makes the Foster College unique is its position somewhere between small liberal arts schools—with a primary emphasis on undergraduate teaching—and large universities with an overriding emphasis on research. “The Foster College is large enough to support a core of faculty sufficiently specialized and proficient in their discipline and small enough to have a strong student focus.”

Baer said one of the most pressing problems facing business schools is the growing shortage of business faculty with Ph.D.s—a problem that’s expected to reach crisis proportions. “As a result, our recruiting efforts have intensified. Successful recruiting and retention, above all, lies with our ability to create a climate and culture attractive to faculty, one that contributes to the enhancement of their careers and that provides them with a multitude of challenging, interesting, and rewarding experiences.”

Foster College is currently implementing two new programs—the previously-mentioned International Scholars Program and new curricula in professional sales. “We aspire to build one of the premiere professional sales programs in the nation,” Baer said. “Not only will this program equip students with the best and latest knowledge and skills needed to be leaders in sales and sales management careers, but it would respond to the needs of key industry partners with a targeted curricula and industry training programs.”

He said the International Scholars Program will enhance the education of business students by further building an international culture in the College. “Central to the program are class trips abroad. This semester, students will travel to Mexico. Next year’s destination is China.”

Baer said the College—and he, as dean—faces a threefold challenge: to operate the highest quality business education possible, to create a total experience for students so when they graduate they leave with not only a great education but with an affection for the institution, and to be a valuable resource for the business community.

He’s enjoyed the rewards that come with meeting these challenges, Baer said. “Most rewarding for me in my short time as dean has been to see the development and implementation of our new Executive MBA in leadership. The first EMBA class is completing its 15-month course of study, and the second class has just begun. In only our first year of operation, we received the ‘Innovation in the Leadership of Business Education Award’ from AACSB and were recognized by Fortune Magazine.” IBI