March 15, 2007

AEM Jumps in National Rankings

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On March 8, Cornell University made the top ten of BusinessWeek’s best undergraduate business schools in the U.S. — just five years after the Applied Economics and Management major became an accredited business program.

The University is one of only two members in the Ivy League to have a general business program. The University of Pennsylvania was ranked number one for its Wharton School. The University of Virginia, U.C. Berkeley, Emory and the University of Michigan also made the top five. Rounding off the top ten, Cornell outranked over 530 other institutions.

Prof. Dale Grossman, applied economics and management, said the ranking did not come as a surprise. “We’ve been a general business program since the sixties but nobody realized it was here,” Grossman said. As soon as Cornell qualified for national rankings in January 2002, the program began to attract attention. Since last year, the University jumped up four spots from its ranking of 14th.

Last year’s ranking in BusinessWeek was accompanied by the explanation: “Ivy League benefits include top-notch education and plenty of resources — although some classes are overcrowded.” Recently, the department expanded its faculty, hiring two new finance professors in order to offer smaller and more specialized courses.

Aside from increasing the number of faculty and classes, Prof. Cindy van Es, a member of the department for 14 years, said the major has shifted focus recently, placing more weight on leadership and diversity. The new Business Opportunity in Leadership and Diversity program will launch next fall, incorporating some untraditional methods to develop AEM students into strong leaders. “We’re using AEM 222 as a pilot for some of the ideas for the BOLD program. In one team-building activity, groups of 20 to 30 students will go out and do a ropes course with Cornell Outdoor Education.”

Danny Pang ’07, an AEM major and president of Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity, chose Cornell because he saw that the freshly-accredited business program would offer opportunities for current students to help shape the major.

“I think the best thing AEM has going for it is its momentum, the fact that it’s on the up and up has made the culture of the major more aggressive, always trying to improve itself,” Pang said.

Headed for an investment banking position with Merrill Lynch after graduation, Pang said the AEM major prepared him well for the real world. He failed to see the point of the biology requirement for business majors, however, as well as AEM’s placement in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “That’s one reason a lot of high school students don’t know about the business program, because it’s kind of tucked away in the agriculture school. Cornell has been trying to increase visibility of the program, though, and these rankings definitely help,” he said.

The business program was originally founded to train farmers to think like businessmen and manage their farms more efficiently. Grossman sees the major’s continuing affiliation with the agriculture school as “quite practical because in this day and age businesses are focusing on sustainability and protecting the environment, and they’re looking for prospective employees who can understand that. What has been a new movement in other schools has long been a part of our heritage.”

Despite mixed opinions on the major’s placement in CALS and the biology requirement, AEM majors have a high opinion of their professors. In a recent student survey the department received an A+ for teaching and services. Cornell’s high student approval rates, along with high starting salaries for recent graduates and acceptance rates into top 35 MBA business schools, helped the University receive its first ever top-ten ranking in BusinessWeek.