Higher education

Dubuque colleges fight University of Iowa pitch for new MBA program in area

Citing a request from Deere & Co, UI proposes to extend its reach

University of Iowa logo
University of Iowa logo

Plans by the University of Iowa to extend the reach of its business program into Dubuque at the request of Deere & Co. employees is eliciting pushback from private colleges that call it “predatory” and “absolutely unnecessary.”

The UI is looking to offer a master of business administration program in Dubuque, adding to programs it now offers in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Davenport in addition to Iowa City.

But representatives from several private colleges in Dubuque are fighting it.

“There are three private colleges in Dubuque, all of whom offer a master’s degree in business,” said Gary Steinke, president of the Iowa Association of Independent Colleges. “This is predatory. Offering a master’s degree program in Dubuque is absolutely unnecessary and does not serve any need in Dubuque. None.”

The Board of Regents-run Iowa Coordinating Council for Post-High School Education is scheduled to take up the issue Wednesday during its meeting in Ankeny. The council is expected to vote on the proposal, although that vote holds no authority — meaning UI could offer the program even if the council votes against it.

According to the group’s bylaws, it was established to review academic program proposals, assess existing offerings and make recommendations to governing boards, institutions and the public.

“The Coordinating Council was established so that this sort of thing didn’t happen,” Steinke said.

UI officials in August notified the council of plans to offer a professional MBA program in the community of more than 58,000, about 84 miles north of Iowa City, starting next summer. UI officials said they were asked by John Deere Dubuque Works employees to offer the MBA programming there.


But presidents with Loras College, University of Dubuque and Clark University — all of which offer accredited MBA programs — objected and issued a letter.

“While John Deere is at liberty to request the assistance of the University of Iowa for its purposes, it seems reasonable to question whether the university should expand its scope to the entire Dubuque-area market,” the letter said.

The competition that UI would pose is “cause for particular concern,” according to the letter. UI gets tax money from state appropriations, giving it an “undue advantage in any competitive setting with schools in the private sector.”

The presidents argued the UI hadn’t consulted the Dubuque-area colleges.

David Frasier, associate dean with the UI Henry B. Tippie College of Business, responded to those concerns in an Oct. 1 letter, explaining the Deere request and why the UI believes Dubuque has an “unmet demand in a particular market niche.”

According to Frasier, hundreds of Deere employees have earned MBA degrees from UI programs in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and the Quad Cities, and 133 currently are enrolled in courses across the three locations, although some find the commute inconvenient.

“Deere management and staff are familiar with the rigor of the Iowa MBA program, the success their MBA colleagues have enjoyed in the company, and the international recognition of the Iowa MBA,” the letter said.

Jeffrey Bullock, president of the University of Dubuque, said all three of the existing MBA programs are accredited. Although the accrediting bodies are different, he said, they are equally recognized.

“What that tells me is they know they are on thin ice to begin with, and they are looking for some point of distinction,” Bullock said.


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Sarah Fisher Gardial, dean of the UI College of Business, declined to discuss details of the proposed Dubuque program ahead of Wednesday’s meeting but expressed disappointment that others have chosen to criticize the program before the discussion.

“As a public institution, it is our mission to serve the state of Iowa,” Gardial wrote in an email to The Gazette. “We were asked by employees of John Deere, which is a strategic partner of the Tippie College of Business, to offer the MBA program in Dubuque and believe UI will serve a distinct market segment and will have minimal impact on existing programs.”

According to Frasier, UI plans to offer nine core courses in traditional classroom format in Dubuque over two and a half years. An additional six elective courses would be required either online or through multisite, interactive video format.

The part-time UI program requires 45 credit hours over the 15 courses at $665 per credit, totaling $29,925.

“In the absence of a specific request from Deere personnel, we would not have sought out the Dubuque market,” according to Frasier, who said the program might not be sustainable over the long term and current plans call for one or two cycles “to meet current demand.”

A Deere representative could not immediately be reached, but the UI provided a letter it received from Mark A. Dickerson, general manager of John Deere Dubuque Works, referring to employees who approached the UI about such a program.

In Dickerson’s letter, he said Deere employees have received MBAs from both the UI and the local colleges and he reiterated concerns that any new programming “be offered in a way that does not show favoritism above other local institutions.”

Dickerson, in the letter, said UI officials have performed market research.

“You believe there is adequate local demand to substantiate offering the professional MBA program in Dubuque, and that will be received well by those interested and considering commuting to other cities,” he wrote.


University of Dubuque President Bullock asked where the new classes would be located in Dubuque, specifically, and asked why Deere hasn’t offered its space. He said the UI has been misleading about its motives, and said he didn’t even know the topic would be discussed Wednesday until his office received notice only Tuesday morning.

“The full notion of transparency and virtue and ethics is a sham,” he said. “It’s a shame, and it’s a sham. There are three good accredited programs that exist here. And I have a hard time believing there is a market to serve another MBA program.”

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