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Local University Gaining Momentum

Jacksonville University is influencing the local business community by preparing students to succeed and helping companies to grow.

Don Capener_Large photo(1)(1)In expanding its involvement in the community, JU is impacting businesses by providing real-world challenges and opportunities that its students can help solve and meet.

“Our goal with the graduate school overall is to provide a forum for top performers to take their experience and impact to a whole other level,” said Don Capener, dean of JU’s Davis College of Business.

JU pairs education with experience by working with businesses of all sizes, from startups to corporations.

“We adapt the learning goals so that students can check both boxes, that they do ‘work at school’ and do ‘school at work,’” Capener said. “They get the maximum benefit.”
All faculty involved in the school’s executive MBA programs see themselves as executive coaches, for example. “We make it a priority to understand the businesses they come from and the current challenges,” Capener said.

JU’s success in preparing students for career advancement can be measured in part by the starting salaries of its graduate students. In January, CEO Magazine ranked JU’s MBA program 14th internationally based upon its worth and effectiveness. The averaging starting salary for a graduate was $61,000 compared with a total tuition cost of $26,000, Capener said.

Support from local leaders such as members of the business school’s executive advisory board and the Davis family that formerly owned Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc., allows JU to keep tuition low but still pay competitive salaries to top faculty, Capener said. More than 50 percent of graduate students are sponsored and financially supported by their employers as well.

JU is expanding its offerings for graduate students by adding a doctorate in business administration program for students seeking a “terminal degree experience.” The university drew 50 applicants for 12 to 14 spots in the program and has accepted eight students so far, Capener said. The rest of the spots will be filled by May 1 and classes will start in the fall.

Enrollees include executives from companies across the Southeast as well as students from the Middle East and Europe. “We have people flying in for this program,” Capener said.

Like executive MBA students, participants in the doctorate program will get to mingle with local business leaders and hear from top speakers at events that JU holds on campus every other week. “It’s a forum that’s unique and it’s something Jacksonville hasn’t had in the past,” Capener said.

JU also is bringing new support to local entrepreneurs by sponsoring CoWork Jax, a community-focused incubator on West Forsyth Street that offers shared workspace to more than 100 members. JU will offer resources and up to 30 faculty and students to help entrepreneurs.

“The typical university’s approach to an incubator or entrepreneurship is to create their institute of entrepreneurial studies or incubator and operate it as a silo for their students,” Capener said.

“We looked at the Jacksonville business community and said we wanted our program to be open sourced. We wanted to work with people who had nothing to do with JU and were passionate about starting their businesses.”

As CoWork Jax’s exclusive university partner, JU’s Davis College of Business will receive memberships for graduate students and faculty; and use of the CoWork Jax space for classes, recruitment open houses, and alumni mixers.

“This was an opportunity for us to send our people into the real world and integrate and offer their intellectual horsepower, their energy and their enthusiasm to the startup community,” Capener said.

wendy gillisStudents will be able to work with innovative entrepreneurs like past and future stars of One Spark, the city’s annual crowdfunding festival, said CoWork Jax member Wendy Gillis, principal of Wendy Gillis Marketing. “If you’re working alongside an entrepreneur who is doing it, I don’t know what better experience there is,” Gillis said.

JU will benefit from the exposure and may be able to build off the community’s entrepreneurial momentum, rather than isolating itself on campus. “People are taking note of JU,” she said.

Measuring JU’s thought leadership and impact on the local business community is difficult, Capener said. But it is influencing businesses from startups, to mid-sized companies to large corporations by providing relevant education and meaningful experience.

“It’s not like studying a case that happened 20 years ago that has no relevance or application to the Jacksonville business community.”


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