All the presidents of the colleges that make up Claremont University Consortium in California visited Asia recently to highlight their commitment to attracting top students from the region and continue their collaborative research programmes with local institutions.
The university is comprised of seven leading liberal arts colleges, namely Claremont Graduate University, Claremont McKenna College, Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences, Pitzer College, Pomona College, Harvey Mudd College and Scripps College.
The faculty and senior management take a unique approach to executive education, including MBAs. This starts with students being able to enjoy the individualised attention of a small college with the resources of a major university.
A recent example of this was a US$200million donation by Robert Day to Claremont McKenna College, one of the largest single donations to a college in United States history.
It is this kind of support and the commitment of the Consortium's leaders to provide excellent education that is attracting Asian students, who now make up a significant percentage of overseas students attending the colleges.
The question is, how to convince business-minded people to take their MBAs at a liberal arts college? Simple, according to Robert Klitgaard, president and university professor at Claremont Graduate University. Show not only that liberal arts provide a practical angle to business (because management is a liberal arts area), but pair it with a unique undergraduate programme that provides students with two degrees in five years.
'We have a 4+1 plan, where students earn an undergraduate degree in four years, and in their fifth year they take intensive courses in finance, economics and leadership. On completion of their courses, they earn a master of finance degree. Of course, we also offer more traditional master's and doctoral degrees as well.
'Even at the undergraduate level we train leaders and managers for the world of business and government,' Professor Klitgaard said.
The Consortium was founded in 1887 and all of its colleges are ranked high on many tertiary education excellence lists.
Faculty and senior management recognise that the Asia-Pacific region not only contains some of the best student talent in the world, but they also see it at the epicentre of world's next leading economy. They provide scholarships for many exceptional students from the region, and care about the students' quality of life while at college. The small-town environment of the colleges helps provide an easy transition for overseas students, so they don't feel overwhelmed by their new surroundings.
For MBA students, there is usually a pressing need to either return to work or join the workforce immediately to help offset the high costs of studying.
The Consortium's colleges provide realistic skills and knowledge so that graduates can help their companies from day one.
Pamela Brooks Gann, president of Claremont McKenna College, said that serious training in leadership development, accounting literacy and understanding of basic finance formed the foundations of the college MBA courses.
Selecting the right students for the programmes was another important area.
'We go through a comprehensive selection process in choosing our MBA students. Students need to not only take a battery of leadership tests, but they also have to go through interviews. We are serious about trying to identify leadership qualities in potential students,' Ms Gann said.
Both presidents agree that the Consortium's colleges are good at blending theory with practical skills, and that liberal arts are a solid foundation for an MBA.
They also believe in innovation, and some of the colleges are working on what could be termed new areas of education, such as offering an MFE degree - master of financial engineering. 'This is the area that applies mathematics to business problems, and which seems of particular interest to Asian students,' Professor Klitgaard said.
He also said that many knowledge-based economies, which had been the bedrock of the business world for several years, would be moving into a design economy, another area of particular interest to Asian students.
'Everything we buy has a design. And as more people have more money, they are beginning to buy things for their beauty and not just utilitarian use. This adds to the quality of life and, as many top designers across many sectors are in Asia, this area will become key not only to individual countries' economies, but also to the world economy,' he said.
To this end, students in a diverse student body in the Consortium's colleges need to be able to work well together. 'Our MBA students form cross-cultural teams and work on projects together. This also helps raise awareness of one's natural leadership ability,' Ms Gann said.