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An Interview with the Dean
Dean Dr. J. Bret Becton, University of Southern Mississippi's College of Business & Economic Development

Dr. Becton USM College of Business Economic Development Dean

When students are looking at which business school will offer them the best business degree and overall experience, they take many factors into consideration. Is the business school accredited? Do they offer the degree program I want? There is lots of information to find on their prestige, and many rankings to take into account. But there is a story behind the data that is sometimes hard to find. College Consensus had the privilege of connecting with Dr. J. Bret Becton, Dean and Professor of the College of Business & Economic Development at the University of Southern Mississippi, to find hear their story.   

Carrying an esteemed “R1: Doctoral Universities – very high research activity” designation, Southern Miss is known for their outstanding research and “connecting with people as catalysts for progress.” The University began in 1910, and the main campus is located in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Around 15,000 students from all over the world are studying for bachelors, masters, specialized, and doctoral degrees from a university accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

The AACSB-accredited College of Business & Economic Development is housed in the state-of-the-art Scianna Hall which provides excellent facilities and resources including study rooms, a creative learning lab, conference rooms, the First Financial Center, and McDonnell Auditorium. Undergraduate business degrees offered include a Bachelors in Accounting, Marketing, International Business, Finance, Healthcare Marketing, Management, Hospitality & Tourism Management, Merchandising, Sport Management, and Business Administration with options in General Business or Entrepreneurship. Graduate degrees include a Masters in Accounting, Economic Development, Business Administration, or Sport Management. They offer flexible and affordable online Bachelors degrees in Business Administration or Management. Graduate students can study for an online Masters in Sport Management, an MBA in Business Administration, or an MBA in Sport Event Security Management. Rankings highlighting the esteemed College include the College Consensus Best Online Undergraduate Business Programs Ranking and the College Consensus Best Online MBA Programs in Mississippi Ranking.

College Consensus: Please tell us about your business school and what makes it unique?   

Dr. Becton: Our College of Business and Economic Development offers high-quality AACSB-accredited programs such as the MBA, while delivering courses that meet the needs of a diverse group of students – with a personal touch. Our Online MBA program is an example of this. The graduate faculty who teach in the program are active scholars in their disciplines, and many of them have practical experience they bring to the classroom. Furthermore, they know our students personally. Most of our MBA students are working professionals with demanding careers and lives. Our flexible course formats, combined with a dedicated graduate faculty, enable them to succeed in the program while continuing their careers and lives.

College Consensus: What do you look for in successful applicants to your business school?  

Dr. Becton: We value all the information our applicants provide, whether quantitative or qualitative. Quantitative metrics include undergraduate GPA, graduate admission test scores, and full-time professional work and/or military experience. In a similar vein, the applicant’s goal for the degree, professional references and resume, and statement of purpose play an important role. And then, there are the immeasurable factors like a desire for the degree, dedication, and perseverance that can make such a big difference. In summary, we do not look for one particular measure but practice a more holistic approach to evaluating applicants. Our MBA students come from very diverse backgrounds, from the U.S. and abroad, and our admission process values these differences in individual applicants.

College Consensus: How do you support your business students to leverage them into a career after graduation? 

Dr. Becton: Only a small percentage of our MBA students are full time, younger students who lack full-time professional work experience. For those students, we provide a range of advising and career services to help them in the job search. We also provide networking opportunities for these students with members of our faculty, alumni, and advisory councils. The majority of our MBA students are working professionals. They hope to either advance within their own organization after earning the degree – or to move to a different organization. Similar networking opportunities are available to these students – but often it is their contact with other working students in the program, or with our MBA Director or a graduate faculty member, that makes the biggest impact. These working students need a “sounding board” for their future career aspirations, and our caring faculty members and staff can make all the difference in their plans for career advancement or change.

College Consensus: Is there anything going on within your business education community that you are particularly excited about?  

Dr. Becton: We are certainly excited about the addition of analytics courses to our undergraduate and graduate programs, and especially to the MBA. These analytical tools drive the business world today, and our students must be equipped with those skills. Having strong analytical skills is the difference in a good job opportunity and a great one. And, we offer the only MBA in the world with an emphasis in Sport Event Security Management. This unique program is also available fully online.

College Consensus: What can you tell us about your online offerings?  

Dr. Becton: Our online MBA courses are taught by our full-time graduate faculty in the College. The same quality delivered in the classroom is delivered online. And our online students receive great technical support from our Office of Online Learning, along with superior and personalized advising services. Our Online MBA program, while relatively new, has achieved some impressive rankings in its first few years – ranked each of the first two years by U.S. News and World Report, ranked #41 by Best College Reviews in 2018, and ranked #17 by Affordable Colleges Online in 2018-2019. And, our MBA with the emphasis in Sport Event Security Management is ranked a Top Online MBA in Sport Management in 2019-2020 by Online MBA Page.

College Consensus logoCrucial Characteristics

Diversity: To have a diverse population of students is advantageous to the overall educational environment. When different cultures of people learn and work together, they can offer each other priceless perspective and a variety of experiences. Southern Miss students come from all over the country and the world to study for their Master of Business Administration degree. MBA professors are multicultural, and the online MBA reaches students throughout the United States and beyond. The heart of the College of Business is inclusivity and providing a place for all kinds of people to seek higher education. This shows in their hiring and admittance processes. 

Networking: For any student pursuing a college degree who hopes to enter into a career right after graduation, an essential part of their preparation process are opportunities to hear from, interact with, and meet with professionals while they are in school. Full-time MBA students are provided with numerous opportunities to not only receive great advisement and career preparation resources, but to create a network of professionals starting with their professors and faculty members. Advisory Councils and Alumni are also excellent resources for students to connect with business leaders and executives and seek out internships and job opportunities. For the part-time, working professional MBA students, there are opportunities to build upon their networking pool through the faculty, staff, alumni, and councils as well as fellow students and classmates in the program. This also creates a “sounding board,” as Mr. Becton stated, for these MBA students who are already working and need guidance to advance in their careers.   

Online Advantages: Some people may believe that by pursuing an online degree, they will miss out on the excellent, intuitive, and expert teaching and inclusive nature of attending classes in-person. This is not true when looking at the online MBA program offered by Southern Miss. They have worked hard at creating an online environment filled with the same high-quality curriculum, expert faculty, and academic and career advising as the on-campus program. There is even an Office of Online Learning devoted to assisting online students with any questions, concerns, or issues they run into. Another great advantage for online MBA students is that they can partake in their education at flexible times, convenient places, and while they are working a full-time job.