James W. Davis has guided South Salt Lake as its mayor for 12 years. He recently became the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. During the same time, Sally Anne Brown has had a career as a social worker, working her way up in the state's Department of Social Services to a position overseeing programs for Utah's elderly.
Their jobs are totally different, yet they shared a common goal in a common way - they earned MBAs at night while still keeping their daytime jobs.Davis and Brown were among the 141 who recently received their master's degrees in business administration from the University of Phoenix-Utah Division. The new kid in Utah higher education, the Arizona-based school, with its non-traditional program for working adults, came to the state four years ago.
"Our students are working adults who want to get the program over. They won't want to spend years working on their degree. They want it expedited," said Dr. R. Jan Thurston, University of Phoenix marketing director.
The school does not fall under the umbrella of Utah's system of higher education. It is fully accredited, however. Because Phoenix is the home base, the university's divisions in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah are accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Universities, a different accrediting agency than governs Utah schools.
"Is the school accredited?" is its most frequently asked question. In fact, when the Utah division opened in 1984, a newspaper headline read, "U. of Phoenix - Not a Diploma Mill."
"We don't get asked that question quite so much any more because the majority of our students come from referrals," Thurston said.
But the University of Phoenix is still different from most higher education institutions in other ways.
Unlike other programs, very few Phoenix students are unemployed students. They are working adults, usually in their mid- to late 30s, who are seeking a degree for either a job change or career enhancement. Bachelor's and master's degrees are offered in business administration and management.
Davis said he has always wanted a master's degree, but job, family and church duties stood in the way. But with the Phoenix program, Davis found he could squeeze in school, too.
Saying many politicians have been rightly criticized for lacking business skills, Davis thinks his newly minted MBA has given him an understanding of the bottom line of private enterprise.
Newly divorced and with three small children, Brown, who also has a master's degree in social work from the University of Utah, decided that she needed new career opportunities. "I needed a way to switch pay scales. I have three small children to raise, and they cost a lot of money."
She hasn't had a pay raise in four years and finds herself at the top of her pay scale, with limited mobility.
Also unlike traditional programs, the University of Phoenix offers a sequential set of classes every six weeks at the Salt Lake, Orem and Ogden offices. A student takes one class in each six-week period, meeting one night a week for four hours plus attending a study group and doing homework. The MBA program is about 24 months, with breaks only for holidays. New groups of students start the program monthly.
With this schedule, the students in a class stay together for the entire program; only the instructor changes every six weeks. "We developed a fierce loyalty for one another," said Davis, "and I learned as much from my classmates as from the materials."
Davis, who has a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Utah, said it was easy to draw from classmates who included a manager from American Express and a Hercules engineer.
The mayor said his city benefited from his pursuit of an advanced degree. South Salt Lake got a brand new personnel policy, thanks to Davis' classwork. And his graduate proj-ect focused on the city's infill housing strategy.
"Our philosophy is to make relevant the things studied in class. We want them to apply immediately tomorrow what they learned in class today," Thurston said.
Brown chose the program because of its limited in-class instruction. Her study group was held during lunch hours. "It's not fair to my kids to be gone more than I already am with work. I value my family too much to go back to school in a traditional program. They need their mom."
Like Davis', Brown's graduate program enhanced her job. Her proj-ect asked, "Do People Perceive Their Government Services Being Delivered By Government or the Private Sector?"
With her MBA and people skills developed in her social work jobs, Brown may continue to work for the state or may seek employment as a chief executive of a small company.