This year marks the centennial celebration of UT’s first graduating class to earn a business degree.
In the early 1900s, business students at the University of Texas attended classes in a little temporary pinewood shack so underdeveloped that the professor had to bring in his own firewood on cold days. Today, that’s far from the case. One hundred years after the first Bachelor’s of Business Administration degrees were awarded, the McCombs School of Business now stands as one of the largest business schools in the nation, ranking among the top 10 in the country. The Alcalde spoke with McCombs associate dean for undergraduate programs David Platt, who has been at UT since 1996, about how the BBA degree came to be, what makes it a success, and the future of the program.
How did the Texas BBA get its start?
Back in the early 1900s and late 1800s, a demand arose for a credential relating to competency in business. [UT-Austin] and a few other schools recognized the importance of people who were trained in business as opposed to people who were trained in other areas and picking up business. UT had been teaching business prior to that sort of ad hoc, but this was the formalization of that process.
Aside from its size, how has the business school changed in 100 years?
The whole process started out as an undergraduate program but it didn’t take long before the MBA was created in 1922. It eventually grew like crazy. Its first two or three decades were really up and down because it wasn’t really a stable time for higher ed, but we really entrenched after World War II.
When we think about our legacy, we look at our 80,000-plus alumni from the BBA program alone and the impact they’ve had. Historically, that impact has been very strong in Texas and increasingly the impact is being felt nationwide and even worldwide.
Why is McCombs one of the best schools in the nation?
We have really good research faculty and the fact that we’re a top 10-ranked research school in the U.S. has set the bar really high. It’s lent a nice balance: 50 percent on the research side and the other 50 percent are lecturers. How we mix research and practice together is a piece of the quality.
Our class is 50 percent women and 15 percent Latino, so when companies look at us they see this large place with a lot of really well-trained students they can very efficiently pursue. Diversity of perspective is really important to companies. They have to lead the way in promoting women and ethnic minorities, but they also want to bring in people who are good and can succeed in their environment. They know that they can find that here.
What makes for a successful BBA student?
I’d like to turn it back a little and say the most important thing for a successful BBA student is for them to define what success means to them. We have students who go on to graduate school, med school, law school, work in government, nonprofits, and a lot who start companies. It’s not just about the big companies. Somewhere along the way a student needs to figure out what’s going to get them out of bed in the morning.
I look at the degree I earned as an equivalent of a BBA at the University of Pennsylvania in 1981 and the degree they get today. The major is mostly the same. What’s really different are the extracurriculars—all the student activities and organizations at McCombs. Every student has to take advantage of that and build a story that describes their passions and themselves. I think they’ll learn a lot about themselves as they do that.
Where is the school headed in the next 100 years?
I can’t speak for the whole 100 years—I don’t think I’ll be here for that long—but maybe for the next five or 10. One thing that will remain is the spirit of the program. Our students are highly valued by the organizations they join. They are roll-up-your-sleeves, get-down-to-work people who like to solve problems and get their hands dirty.
Photo courtesy of McCombs School of Business.
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