UTPB offering new master’s degrees

University of Texas Permian Basin is offering two new master’s degrees starting this fall with one in finance and the other in energy business. (OA File Photo)

University of Texas Permian Basin is offering two new master’s degrees — one in finance and the other in energy business and both have very high job placement rates.

They both got started this fall, Dean of the College of Business Steve Beach said.

“These are very appropriate programs for the region and here and part of our initiatives on growing graduate enrollments (and) serving the students out here. There’s great demand for people with the skills that they get in these programs. Overall, we’re filling out our energy-related training in the College of Business, which is very important. We also have an undergraduate program in energy land management; our changes to our programs at the undergraduate level for finance have resulted in great growth there,” Beach said.

He added that they were able to build these programs based on the fact that their master’s of business administration program offered concentrations in these areas — also energy business and finance. The transition to full-blown master of science programs wasn’t difficult.

“We were already setting the stage for it in the past,” Beach said.

Alper Gormus, chair of the Department of Accounting, Finance and Economics and coordinator of Finance and Energy Programs, said it is important that the programs are STEM certified. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

“Basically, if a program is STEM certified, it allows international students to be able to have much stronger working prospects because it allows students to be able to work for three years under OPT (Optional Practical Training) after they graduate compared to one year, which makes this program unique not just for the region, but it makes it unique for the country as well. STEM-certified MS finance programs are very, very rare and ours is STEM certified,” Gormus said.

Beach said the energy business degree is also STEM certified.

Gormus noted that another unique feature is that the program is offered fully online and in person so students can pick either track.

Beach said generally post-graduation, international students can only stay one year until they get a sponsor.

“They automatically get a work permit for one year, normally. It doesn’t matter if it’s undergraduate, master’s, or PhD, they automatically get one year of work permit unless the program is STEM certified. If it is, they get three years,” Gormus said.

Between the two programs, there are more than 50 students enrolled, Beach said.

“The demand is very high right (out) the gate,” Gormus said.

Beach said a lot of students that come to UTPB to get their bachelor’s and master of business administration and want to work in the area, but if they happen to be on a one-year student visa that’s a challenge.

“We anticipate that will be able to grow the number of graduates who are interested in staying in the program in the region dramatically with with these programs. I think the MS in energy business, a lot of those are going to be folks who are working in firms who don’t have a business undergraduate potentially; a lot of engineers in the area who maybe aren’t interested in MBA for some reason, they want to focus more and more within the energy business that they’re working in and so that program is really picking up those folks,” Beach said.

Gormus added that the MBA program is great.

“But it is, by definition, by its virtue, more generic. It tries to touch on every aspect of the business. But when you get into the MS in energy business, it’s more concentrated on the energy side … Like Dr. Beach was saying, if an engineer wants to continue in the energy side, it’s more attractive for them to get into a master’s, specifically energy business, versus just getting a generic MBA where they will get bits and pieces of everything that’s out there,” Gormus said.

“Both of our MS programs actually still have leveling courses that prepare any student that doesn’t have any business background to … be successful in these programs. … In other words, you don’t have to be a business major to move into these. You can come from an art background if you want to, and still be able to succeed in these programs,” Gormus said.

Beach said he talks to people about their level of comfort with math if they’re going into the master’s programs.

“I think that’s the main thing I talked about with people. How comfortable do you feel with it? That’s like 90% of the hurdle,” Beach said.

Gormus said there’s also a mismatch between how much math people think they’re going to be forced into versus how much math the field actually uses.

“It’s quantitative, for sure. But I’ve always seen that there’s a mismatch when people think something is math oriented, they automatically are thinking intense math background is required. But the truth of the matter is, most of these programs give you, or a lot of times teach you the tools you need from scratch,” Gormus said.

“I’ve seen many people who don’t consider themselves to be math people to be very successful in these programs, because we teach them,” he added.

Beach said students come from all over to take these courses. Right now the on-campus finance program has a lot of UTPB graduates, some international students and others who are recent graduates working in the area.

“Online, it tends to be primarily from across the state of Texas. But that MS in energy business program, right now it is Permian Basin heavy. It is definitely folks right out here who are looking to pick those up,” Beach said.

Gormus noted that the master’s in energy business is not offered that often.

“It’s a unique major,” Gormus said. “A lot of universities offer MBAs, and even sometimes concentrations in energy and things like that, but having a full-blown master’s in energy business is rare, especially being offered from the heart of energy business, being [the] Permian Basin. That’s really rare. Like Dr. Beach was saying, if somebody wants to do anything in energy, it brings them credibility to take that energy intensive program from where energy literally (comes from).”

Beach said a finance degree sets people up for many different career paths.

“I think that’s one of the most important things that people need to know about an MS in finance,” Beach said. “We have graduates who will go into corporate finance areas within firms where they are interacting [with] and working on the accounting side, the financial decision making side quite a bit. We’ll also have graduates who go into financial services, things like financial planning, wealth management … they can do with their master’s in finance,” Beach said.

“Out here, we have a lot of folks who graduate with their finance degree who go … work in the energy sector and at banks,” Beach said.

“So many of our graduates from the finance programs here work in the loan departments of these banks out here and then move into upper management positions with them,” Beach said.

He added that energy business is related to finance, even though they only share a few courses.

“I think our primary opportunity is for folks who are coming in with technical backgrounds working in the industry and want to be able to set themselves up to potentially move into managerial roles and into decision-making roles out of the technical training that they have and the technical roles that they already have. You’ll see some of the folks pick up energy business (who) might go into the finance side within energy firms because we’re training them on those same skill sets, too,” Beach said.

If people who want to move up into higher management, a finance background is a highly sought after qualification, Gormus said.

“In other words, if you look at Fortune 500 companies and their CEOs, the majority of them have some form of a finance background, even if they’re CEOs of a marketing firm. … It is not just for finance-related jobs, but high-level management. Another thing that I’ve been getting feedback for from a lot of students that do these things, is that it doesn’t matter what team they apply for, let’s say they’re applying for working in a marketing company for a specific promotional team. Every team needs a person that ties the activities of that team to the bottom line. … That’s why if you look at job searches, and a lot of the job posts that are out there, even non finance related … jobs will a lot of times prefer people with finance backgrounds, because they’re easier to utilize across the company, rather than just have that unique skill set for one thing,” he added.

Beach agreed, noting that he’s a finance person.

“I think it’s a great training for decision makers. That’s ultimately what separates people’s career prospects. Are they able to put information together to make good decisions and that’s the definition of what finance training is,” he added.

Whether you’re going into healthcare, nonprofit, small business, corporations or any other type of concern, Beach said business training is helpful because you have to run your operations well.

“That’s why training in business is so helpful, no matter what business you go (into), even a nonprofit,” Beach said.

When they compiled new degree proposals for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Beach said they were supposed to provide input from industry that they believe the degrees were a good idea and there was going to be a need for people with this training.

Beach said the Business Advisory Council for the college supported it wholeheartedly.

Beach and Gormus said they have about the same number of graduate and undergraduate students in the College of Business. Gormus said it can fluctuate depending on the discipline.

“We can say right now, particularly with these two specialized business programs and our master’s of professional accountancy, there has been a drop off in enrollments in MBA programs nationwide the last year or so. But we had these programs ready to go at the right time and keeping our enrollments at really strong levels,” Beach said.

Gormus noted that the College of Business has increased its numbers.

“It’s quite a unique circumstance to be in,” he said.

Beach said some universities and colleges have seen dramatic enrollment declines. He added that both UTPB and OC should be very proud of what they’ve accomplished.

Gormus noted that the faculty who teach specialized courses are well positioned.

“They … have industry experience that corresponds to these classes and/or substantial research in the areas that they teach. It’s not just the program, but who teaches classes. … Our faculty is top notch in terms of satisfying what the community needs these disciplines to provide for them,” Gormus said.

Beach added that they get “great feedback” from employers.

Gormus added that their job placement rate for a lot of the programs, especially in energy or finance is ridiculously high.

“We know for sure it’s above 90%. … When we say 90% we’re talking about in the first six months it’s a job placement. We’re really proud of not only providing the programs, but being able to place our students in well-paying jobs,” Gormus said.