Inside Iowa State
October 8, 1999

Industry hungry for grads in hot ISU program

by Kevin Brown
Ask Michael Crum what it feels like to man the front lines of the rapidly growing Management Information System (MIS) emphasis in the College of Business and he’ll tell you it’s like the opening line to Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities — "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

Crum, chair of the logistics, operations and management information systems department, said the phenomenal growth of the major since its introduction is accompanied by a constant battle to keep instructors who often are wooed by industry.

When the specialized program was created in 1992, 25 students enrolled. In 1999, the number of students in the program skyrocketed to nearly 600.

The reason for the increase is simple, Crum said. Industry is snapping up graduates in this hot job category. The demand is so great that graduates are receiving record salary and benefits package offers, and companies feel compelled also to offer signing bonuses to attract the best candidates.

That same rosy employment picture makes it difficult to hire faculty, who are lured by industry’s lucrative compensation packages. To compete, universities are ratcheting up academic salaries to attract top-notch applicants. But academia can’t increase salaries as quickly as private industry. Convincing graduates to enter doctoral programs, so there is a new supply of faculty, rather than the corporate sector, is a problem all universities are facing.

The result is higher student-to-instructor ratios that create challenges in the classroom. Crum said the department is facing those challenges head-on. First, it has been successful in hiring new, outstanding faculty despite the competition for those individuals.

Second, the department is investigating ways to use technology to facilitate student learning. For example, the department is seeking external and university support to acquire computer-based tutorials that can be incorporated into classroom instruction and used as stand-alone teaching tools. The tutorials are used widely by companies for staff training and education and are being adopted more by universities.

Finally, faculty are looking at more creative uses of teaching assistants and students teaching each other.

MIS has outpaced more traditional business majors at Iowa State, such as accounting, finance and marketing. While both employer demand and student interest for those areas remain strong, the explosion in information management and the growth of e-commerce (commercial Internet activity) are sparking the interest in MIS, Crum said.

"This major is particularly good for students who have strong tech-nical skills and strong communi-cations skills — both written and verbal," Crum said.

Companies that have hired MIS graduates include 3M, Cap Gemini, Engineering Animation Inc., Hallmark Cards, Maytag, Norwest Mortgage and Pioneer Hi-Bred International.

A 1997-98 salary survey by the career services division of the business college showed that MIS graduates’ salaries range from $28,000 to $53,000 annually. The average salary for an MIS graduate is $39,934. MIS graduates also experience a 95 percent hire rate after graduation.

"Businesses are asking themselves, ‘How are we going to utilize technology to create new markets and to foster better customer service?’" Crum said. "The MIS graduate is the important variable in arriving at those answers."

Crum said some people confuse computer science or computer engineering with MIS. "Students interested in those two areas are more attracted to the technology development aspects.

"MIS students are excited by the business applications of the technology," he added. "An MIS student asks such questions as: ‘How do we utilize the technology to provide more accurate and timely information for decision makers? How do we utilize technology to improve our operating and financial processes? How do we apply the technology to create new markets and serve our customers better?’"

The beauty of an MIS education, Crum said, is it encourages students "to understand the whole process, not just a piece of the process." He said employers today seek employees who can relate to all the functions of business and view each as an intrinsic component of the other.

This is accomplished in the classroom by encouraging work with students in other majors, such as logistics, production and marketing.

"All of our students will be doing that type of work in their careers," Crum said. "MIS students encounter it very early on.

"This is really the most exciting and fun time to be in the MIS field," Crum said. "The opportunities are plentiful, and everything is changing at warp speed. The students and faculty are enjoying themselves, while working very hard to stay abreast of all the changes."

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