The home of the Ivy College of Business on the Iowa State University campus, the Gerdin Business Building, has become one of the most heavily used and overcrowded facilities at ISU, and David Spalding really couldn’t be happier about that.

Spalding, who has led the college of business as the Raisbeck endowed dean since the fall of 2013, has helped generate enrollment growth of 26 percent over the past five years - more than double the 11 percent national average. Under Spalding’s direction, the college has also in that time racked up an enviable slate of new and emerging programs that are keeping it at the leading edge of Central Iowa’s business needs, while adding about 50 more faculty members to keep pace.

Before coming to ISU, Spalding spent eight years at the prestigious Dartmouth College, where he was a senior vice president and senior adviser to the college’s president. Before entering his second career in higher education, he had a successful 29-year finance career that included positions with Chase Manhattan Bank, First National Bank of Chicago, GE Capital and Lehman Brothers, and also co-founding a private equity firm, Cypress Group.

Spalding’s business background undoubtedly influences his pragmatic approach to building practical degree programs, among them a proposed undergraduate degree in business analytics, a new undergraduate certificate in sales and a growing major in entrepreneurship that he expects will top 200 students by its fifth year.   

I sat down recently for a one-on-one with Spalding for some insight into the trends that have driven growth, the successful strategies he’s used to translate business needs into new programs, and some of the opportunities he sees ahead for continuing to drive growth for the college.

Q: So how busy and full is the Gerdin Building?

Classes there run from 7:30 in the morning until after 10 o’clock at night, Monday through Thursday, and 8 in the morning till 5 o’clock on Fridays. And even with that, we had 45 classes that had to be taught outside of [Gerdin] because we didn’t have room for them. So that’s one challenge we’re facing. We also, from a faculty standpoint, have cramped offices in every nook and cranny of the building. And even with that, we’ve got 10 faculty members who have offices outside of the building now. And we’ve also grown our staff as we make sure we’re meeting the needs of students in providing the advisers and the career help they need, and so we’ve got overcrowding in our staff areas. So the [building expansion] is going to give us additional classroom space to be able to pull all those classes back in the building, and get ourselves back to a more normal schedule.

Q: What are the largest majors, and which ones have been the fastest-growing?

Our largest majors are actually our marketing major, and then our finance major; and both of those majors have grown quite a bit over the last five years.

Two of the fastest-growing majors for us are our supply chain major and our information systems major. And those are majors that are very much in demand today. Currently those two majors are in the same department together. Effective July 1, we’re separating those into two separate departments to enhance our focus in those two very important, fast-growing areas,

Q: What are some of the key needs you’re hearing about from business leaders?

I’ve spent a lot of time talking to business leaders in the state. And one of the areas where they certainly talk about having real need for talent is in the sales area. It’s been written about in a number of publications that millennials aren’t as interested in sales, for a wide variety of reasons. So what we’re doing is we’re really looking to select and train a group of students interested in sales as a profession and the opportunities that exist there.

There’s been a tremendous demand just based on the couple of courses that we offer in sales now, and there’s been a tremendous demand from industry. So we’re now expanding that by developing a program where students will get an undergraduate certificate in sales and experience real-world practical work in the sales suite [planned in the Gerdin Building expansion]. And we’re developing some very good corporate partnerships as well to get bring live cases into the classroom to give the students a chance to get real-life practical experience during their education. So when you’re infusing new programs like this into a major like marketing, which has been one of our standbys since our founding, that really drives growth in that major.

At the same time, analytics are becoming more and more important to marketing. It used to be that the chief marketer of a retail chain would be deciding based on their gut what the color of the year was going to be. And now what’s happening is that analytics are really being used to determine much more precisely what the customer is looking for and will be looking for over the period yet to come. We’re beefing up our capabilities [in the marketing program] and providing a track for students to get an analytics concentration.

Q: How has demand for more data analytics programs driven enrollment growth?

Organizations of all sizes are developing mounds of data every day, and finding ways to more effectively use that data - either to drive revenue growth or drive cost efficiencies - is critically important in an environment where in general, sales growth has been hard to hard to achieve. And so we’re currently going through the process of getting an undergraduate major in business analytics approved. We expect to have that in front of the regents by the end of this current semester. And if that’s approved by the regents, we would launch it as soon as the next academic year.

That’s going to be an interdisciplinary major. So the students will take a core group of classes in what’s going to become our information systems and business analytics department, but then they’ll have the ability to go take courses in any one of our other majors to create a focus. So they would be a business analytics major with an accounting focus or a business analytics major with the supply chain focus or with the marketing focus. And so analytics really is infusing all parts of business today.

A second example [of demand for analytics] is our Master of Business Analytics program designed for working professionals that we launched in the fall of 2015. It’s primarily online, and taught by our faculty and also by faculty from our statistics department. It was the second-largest initial cohort for a graduate program in Iowa State history, and it continues to be a very strong program for us in terms of the enrollment level.  

A third thing on the analytics front is our Business Analytics Symposium that we offer in Des Moines. We moved the program this year from the Marriott to the Civic Center because last year we met our registration max in only eight days, and we sold out the prior couple of years as well. So we moved into larger space this year and we’ve got close to 500 people at this point who’ve registered for that program. And so this really is becoming the go-to opportunity in analytics here in Iowa.

Q: The college launched the entrepreneurship major in the fall of 2017. How’s that going?

We had eight [students as] majors when we launched it in the fall of 2017, and effective this semester we’ve got 81 students majoring in entrepreneurship. So this is a fast-growing major for us. And that major is hands-on; students have a class that involves preparing a business plan, they pick up a variety of skills around small business topics. … We continue to see great potential for growth in the entrepreneurship major. We’re on track for over 200 majors at the end of our fifth year, and comfortable that we’re going to get there at this point.

We’re working universitywide to improve the entrepreneurship minor that we have. So we have a program where students take two classes in the College of Business, they then go back to their home college and take the remainder of the program there. And we’re really improving that program to bring more students into that program across campus.

One of my themes is we’ve got to keep this practical; we’ve got to keep this real. And so we’ve really expanded our outside-of-the-classroom opportunities in entrepreneurship as well. And so we have our CyStarters program - we’re going to have our fourth cohort this coming summer; we had very strong demand from students to be a part of that program.

Q: What are some of the key elements of CyStarters?

That’s a program where essentially students get paid to work over the summer on their new business idea. And they have to compete to be a part of this program, they have to pitch to be part of the program. They’re assigned a mentor, they get a chance to have some great presentations from people on various topics around entrepreneurship. And very importantly, there’s a weekly accountability session. So every week, they have to speak to the group about what they actually accomplished during the week, and then what they’re planning on accomplishing for the next week. And this makes it clear to students that entrepreneurship is something you have to structure and work at, just like any business situation. And by providing better structure around it, we really help students take their business ideas to the next level.

Q: What are some ways faculty keep current in their fields?

Our connections with businesses here in Iowa are critical. And each one of our majors has an advisory board that meets once or twice a year. One of the main purposes of that advisory board is to get our faculty together with people in industry, and these are generally people who are are involved in recruiting our students or people not that far out of our programs. And so they’re able to talk about what what we’re doing well, what we’re not doing well, how we ought to think about our curriculum. So that’s really a great way to keep our our faculty very current in what’s going on in industry.

A second thing is that our faculty are doing research. Our faculty are all leading researchers in their field. They’re publishing research articles in the top journals in their academic fields. In order to do that, they have to stay on the cutting edge of what’s going on in business. Our students aren’t learning from faculty who are lecturing from the yellowed lecture notes that they’ve been using for years - it’s being freshened up every year because of the research that they’re doing.

Q: Tell me about some of your new initiatives coming up.

One of the opportunities that that we identified here that we’re launching this fall is an undergraduate degree and major in actuarial science. … The actuarial area was one of the areas where we really weren’t engaging, and what I heard from leaders in the insurance field is that the actuary profession remains critically important for them. The idea for [students] having a degree that’s offered out of the College of Business as opposed to the statistics area was very attractive to [insurance leaders] - that these students will get that foundational core education in business as well as the actuarial classes for the exams they have to take.

Another area we saw real opportunity was in real estate. Land is so much at the core of everything in the state, not just agriculture, but also the development of growing cities and towns across the state. And so I saw an opportunity there to, again, offer a degree for working professionals to enable them to deepen their knowledge in the area of real estate. And so we’re going to be launching this fall a master’s of real estate development - this will be a primarily online program. This is a collaboration with the College of Design, which has a community planning program that’s in the top 20 in the country.  

Q: Enrollment growth has been really strong in the past five years. What are you predicting for the next five years?

I do see that slowing down. We’ve gone from 3,600 students to 4,931 students today. And I think getting another 600 to 700 students enrolled over the next five years, that would be more of what my expectation would be. That works out to be another 12 to 15 percent growth over that time. So I would still expect that to be faster than national growth, but not at the blistering pace we have had.

Another point is that we have really been working hard to diversify our student population, and that’s been helping to drive growth for us as well. Businesses today are increasingly looking to have a diverse workforce. And these companies look at me and say, you’re at the front end of the pipeline; we’re hiring directly from you, so what are you doing to diversify your enrollments? And so we’ve worked hard to increase the number of multicultural students in the college. While our overall growth was 26 percent, we grew our multicultural enrollment by 48 percent over that period. And that involved, in particular, targeting the growing Latino population here in the state of Iowa.

When I came, our Latino enrollment was under 3 percent and the state’s population was around 5 percent Latino. So I set a goal of getting to 5 percent, and this past fall we got up to over 5 percent, about 5.3 percent, but I took a look at what the population demographics are, the K through 12, and that’s closer to 8 percent Hispanic. So like any good business leader, I told my recruiting staff that we were going to switch our goal from 5 percent to 8 percent, and continue to create more opportunities and work with a variety of areas to expand our presence in the Latino community.

It’s also important for us to increase the number of women in the College of Business; we’ve traditionally been in the 33 to 35 percent range. And so while we’ve increased over the last five years, the number of women has been closer to 24 percent to 26 percent. So that means we’ve slipped a little bit in terms of proportion of women, but we’ve got a number of programs to bring more women into the college. Certainly, that’s an area where I’m hearing from industry. So I think we’ve got a real opportunity there. And I think as we get that formula right and bring more women into college, that’s another opportunity for us to drive enrollment growth.

Q: Looking at the MBA programs, what are the highlights there, and what’s on the horizon?

There’s a lot of exciting things going on with our MBA program; last fall we were voted the best MBA in Des Moines by the Business Record survey. We bring our internationally known faculty from Ames to come down here to teach that program. So it’s a great opportunity for students to learn from some of the top scholars in their fields. That was followed up just recently with the news that our full-time MBA program for the first time was ranked in the top 50 in the United States - we were ranked No. 47 in the country [by U.S. News & World Report].

That puts us in the top 10 percent of all accredited MBA programs in this country. And it’s really wonderful recognition of the great work that our faculty do in the classroom with those students, and the work that our staff does in recruiting students into that program and then placing those students in jobs. One of the key elements in that increased ranking was the fact that in this most recent year, we placed 100 percent of our students within three months of graduation. That really shows that our students are well-prepared for the business world, but also that our career services staff is doing a great job making the right contacts for them to get placed.

We’re now launching a new program, the Executive MBA, which is going to focus on the food, agriculture and biosystems areas. We’re doing this in collaboration with our College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. We’re really reaching out to our internationally known colleagues to help create great programs for students. Our College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is one of the top five or eight in the world. And so partnering with them, getting their faculty engaged in this business program, is going to provide a unique experience for the students in this Executive MBA.

We’re looking forward to getting this launched in August, and we’ve had great success with recruiting so far for the program and feel very good about what that first cohort is going to look like. We’re very excited with that program to have Suku Radia as one of the faculty engaged in that program. Suku will be involved in co-teaching on one or two the classes and is also running a speaker series for the program. He is obviously just a wonderful resource and he’ll be involved mentoring the students as well

Q: What concluding thoughts would you leave us with?

I think when you consider Iowa State’s land-grant mission, I think we stay very loyal to that mission to provide a practical and accessible education. And so we’re looking to recruit a more diverse student population as part of that accessibility piece, and providing more scholarships as part of that accessibility piece. And increasing the various opportunities for students to get engaged in the real world is an important part of that practical piece.

A second pillar of the land-grant mission is the research mission and having our faculty engaged in scholarship that has them published and read by scholars around the world is an important part staying true to that mission. It’s also looking at that research coming back out of the laboratories and out of their papers in being used to help improve businesses here in the state, something that’s critically important.

And then the third piece of that land-grant mission is engaging with the people of Iowa. And we’ve really built on wonderful partnerships here in the Des Moines business community as well, but more broadly in businesses across the state who have gotten engaged with our students and with our programs. And it’s just a great partnership. And I really want to commend businesses here in the state of Iowa for what they do to embrace this opportunity to help develop the next generation of business leaders for the state. And that’s really critical for the success that we’re having.