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Will state-of-the art technology and flashy architecture attract students to these business schools? Several insiders discuss whether technological and aesthetic improvements are a luxury or a neccessity.

Ten years ago, 700 students attended the A.B. Freeman School of Business at Tulane University in New Orleans. They went to class in a perfectly nice little building, but the edifice soon became just that: little. By last fall, enrollment had doubled. "The facility we had was built for a smaller size student body, and our students expect high-quality facilities," says James McFarland, the school's dean. "We have to deliver on that." The delivery arrived in the form of Goldring/Woldenberg Hall II, the school's new $22 million center for graduate and executive programs, complete with a sparkling electronic trading room.

The spending match is on. Like a bunch of presidential hopefuls spilling cash all over the country to court voters, business schools from Georgia to Oregon are spending millions on new facilities to attract top talent. Technology is often the biggest selling point, with flashy architecture not far behind. It's not that erecting showy, state-of-the-art buildings guarantees more or better students; rather, schools have acknowledged that the new facilities are required to keep attracting any students at all.

"It's unthinkable not to have a building that's fully wired or one that enables students to have wireless access from any classroom," says Daphne Atkinson, vice president of industry relations at the Graduate Management Admission Council in McLean, Virginia, which administers the GMAT test and studies trends in graduate business education. "Also, given how technology is integrated in the business school curriculum and the fact that these people are going to go out and manage a technology-driven job, it becomes critical that a business school reflect the landscape of the real world."

A sampling of recent, current, and upcoming projects:
* In March, Emory University's Goizueta Business School broke ground on a major addition that will house the Ph.D. program, research centers, and a virtual trading floor. Cost: $33.4 million
* At the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, the new Hyde Park Center is scheduled to be completed by next fall.
Cost: $125 million
* In August 2002, Wharton opened Jon M. Huntsman Hall, a tech-packed academic center that integrates technology-enhanced learning with team-based learning. Cost: $139.9 million
* A swirling, stainless steel, Frank Gehry-designed building opened in the fall of 2002 to house Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management. Cost: $61.7 million (see Jungle, December 2000/January 2001)

In every case, the gleaming new structures replace buildings that were overcrowded and outdated, two qualities that don't look good in the admissions brochure. Linda A. Livingstone, dean of the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University, says that last year's opening of three new campuses--at a cost of $200 million--was not a luxury. It was a necessity a long time coming. "When we started our full-time MBA program 16 years ago, the intent was always to move to another facility," she says. "It just took 10 years to get all the approvals and permits that it takes to build on the coast in California."

This fall, Graziadio's MBA program moved into the brand-new Drescher Graduate Campus in Malibu. The 50-acre site includes an executive conference center to host guest speakers, academic events and executive meetings; wireless technology; and stock-ticker panels that keep students updated on the market's rise and fall. As at many B-schools these days, the emphasis is on simulating a corporate environment. "Many of our students are working full-time," says Livingstone. "We wanted to create a comparable environment to their workplace. That way they can connect what they're learning here to what they learn on the job."

At some schools, new construction benefits not only future MBAs but the local economy. In January, the first students began taking courses at the $41 million Lillis Business Complex at the University of Oregon's Charles H. Lundquist College of Business. The facility aims to be environmentally friendly, with a sharp focus on the economic health of a region hit hard by the recession.

"Our core competence is group experiential learning," says Lundquist's dean, Philip Romero. "The building was designed from the ground up to facilitate that. We have many huddle spaces where students and faculty can interact casually and produce what I call creative collisions. In addition, we wanted to take the lead on environmental issues. We are 50 percent more energy efficient than the state building code requires." What's more, graduates often stay in the Pacific Northwest to work. "Because the building allows us to teach in the way we think is very effective, we will produce graduates who are very prepared," he says. "We're directly contributing to the Northwest's economy."

And that's not counting the $41 million doled out to construction companies, land surveyors, architects, contractors, landscapers, pavers, electricians, plumbers, and everyone else who works on such projects. Not a bad contribution all by itself.
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