RDS Masters Program Enters Third Year. Is it Successful?

Entering its third year, the Masters Program in Finance at Claremont McKenna College is doing some introspection. "We're going through a lot of evaluation in terms of how we think about our program and what we are trying to do here," said Dean of the Robert Day School Brock Blomberg. This graduate program is a product of the $200 million donation from alumnus Robert Day '65, who hoped to enhance the educational experience at CMC. The program replaced the former Robert Day 4+1 MBA Program at Claremont Graduate Institute with an on-campus option and was modeled on a number of similar graduate programs, most notably the Masters of Finance degree offered at Princeton University. Robert Day, the grandson of another important donor and Superior Oil Co. founder William M. Keck, hoped to do something slightly different with his donation. His efforts eventually led to the creation of the Robert Day Scholars program.

The draws of the Masters program include its specialized instruction, a 97% job placement rate, scholarships of at least $24,000, and networking trips to Asia and New York for job placement purposes. The Robert Day Masters scholarships are just slightly more than the $21,000 scholarship given to undergraduate scholars for their participation in the program. The deadline for the undergraduate program was Friday, October 14.

The RDS "package" also includes networking connections with many of the most successful of CMC alums, many of whom serve on the Board of Trustees and the board of the Robert Day School, as well as a week-long session with Training the Street (TTS), a week-long finance preparation program which trains analysts at many top Wall Street investment banks.

For the future, Blomberg sees a graduate class of about 40 students including 7-10 undergraduate students taking part in the 4+0 program, in which CMC students are able to get both a BA and MA in 4 years. There are currently 5 students enrolled in this new program. As Professor Blomberg said in a New York Times article earlier this year, he hopes these students will be able to "show up at the door of [an] investment bank and you won’t even need to add batteries.”

Although the small program has no strict competitors, it does have similar admissions numbers to other top finance programs. The average GRE quantitative score for CMC Graduate students in the Class of 2011 was 770, while Princeton's Masters in Finance class had a median GRE quant score of 790. The college has continued to market to students via a number of avenues, including presentations at various undergraduate institutions and running online and targeted ads on Facebook. Applications to the graduate program have increased in size in each of its first three years.

When compared to the undergraduate Robert Day Scholars, Blomberg noted that the understanding of the graduate program among CMC's alumni network needs "to grow a little bit, as the masters program students have traditionally been different from our undergrads."

Blomberg sees the RDS undergraduates as those seeking a liberal arts background and wanting specialized education in areas of finance, accounting and economics, while the graduate students have mostly come from national research universities, giving them a different undergraduate experience. The program will continue to recruit more students from small colleges. Blomberg and the Director of Admissions at the Robert Day School, Kevin Arnold, have continued to reach out to liberal arts schools across the United States to familiarize them with CMC's new graduate program.

Undergraduate and graduate RDS scholars have found jobs in similar places, and Blomberg credited these similarities to the connections the school maintains with its alumni base, and the strong work of Director of External Relations, Michelle Chamberlain and her team. Placements for the graduate class of 2011 included positions at Ernst & Young, Goldman Sachs, Houlihan Lokey, and Morgan Stanley.

Following a recent networking trip, Blomberg said, "the anecdotal evidence suggests that the [job] market is tight, and the actual evidence continues to suggest that the market is tight." At a recent job event for Barclays Capital at Harvey Mudd on October 12, a recruiter noted there are few opportunities in finance in the United States at this time. With the job environment for CMCers looking bleak, it presents a challenge for the current graduate students and for the program to maintain its 97% job placement record.

However, with more undergraduate students facing a life after college without a job, this may benefit the program with more highly qualified applicants turning to the masters program as an intermediary step to their job search.

Although the debate continues over CMC's current academic focus, applications for the undergraduate and graduate RDS programs, as well as to the college, are on the rise. If the program can continue to place graduates in top spots, despite the dismal job outlook for 'Generation Limbo', the RDS Masters program will continue to grow as a selling point for the school.