Merging Business and Hospitality Education

If you were to roll out a map and place a pin on every hospitality program offered at a university or college around the world, you would need about 1,000 push pins. And if you were to do the same thing for hospitality programs that are affiliated with a business school, you would need only a little over 50 pins. This is a problem to the Director of the Hospitality Management Program at Florida Atlantic University (FAU), Dr. Peter Ricci. For 36 years he has watched, contributed to, and is now teaching the evolution of the hospitality industry. In his eyes, the key to students’ success is the conjoining of business and hospitality learning.

“Historically, most hospitality programs have been considered vocational or known simply for the functionality and preparation to go to work,” Ricci says. “When I became a hotel GM, I found that all the skills I really needed to do my job were business skills.” Today, professors of hospitality are finding that it is not enough to teach, graduate, and ship students off to a job; they want to help students build careers. One avenue to accomplish this is meticulously planning courses such as “Hospitality Marketing and Revenue Management Practices” or “Performance Analysis for Hospitality Managers.” Another way is to affiliate their hospitality programs with their university or college’s business school. Ricci has aided in the development of his program at FAU, where in order for students to be admitted into the program, they must perform at a certain level while taking core business courses including economics, marketing, statistics, and accounting.

At the University of Central Florida (UCF), the hospitality program began in 1983 and was originally housed within the business school. About 17 years later, Harris Rosen, a local hotelier, donated $18 million to jumpstart the independence of the hotel program, which was later named after him when UCF pulled the hospitality program out of the business school. At the time, 80 to 100 students were enrolled in the business school. Today, the hospitality program has more than 2,800 students enrolled full time. The reason for the exponential growth is due to stripping away of the business courses taught by business professors and implementation of hospitality business courses such as “Hospitality Accounting” and “Hospitality Marketing”—thus making the hospitality school an independent institution. “For the past 20 years I have been observing this trend, of hospitality schools becoming more and more independent of their business school parent. And what I have continuously found is that the success rate of the students who are only exposed to hospitality-minded courses is significantly lower than those who are well versed in both business and hospitality,” Ricci explains. The competition for a program to make it in a business school is also what drew Ricci to have his hospitality program stay affiliated. He has seen his own class’s success rate jump from every 2 out of 5 students to every 4.5 out of 5 students successfully placed in a secure job. That’s an increase of 50 percent in job placement due to the foundation of business courses taught.

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As Ricci has observed what makes a student most successful, he has found that oral and written communication, critical thinking, and content knowledge have become essential for the future hospitality leader. “These skills are naturally possessed by a hospitality enthusiast and perfected by a business student,” he says.

The best example is Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. Cornell is one of the top rated hospitality schools in the United States and even so, the business school has pushed away the idea of converging with the hospitality program for years. That was until the hospitality school went to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) and recreated its model for teaching. Now, it hires professors with Ph.D.s in marketing to teach “Hospitality Marketing” and Ph.D.s in accounting to teach “Hospitality Accounting.” It went with what Ricci calls “the business school model route” without officially converging with the Cornell business school. In 2014, the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell became the first AACSB accredited hospitality institution that is not an institution of business out of thousands.

“Taking a look from an employer’s point of view, they are not hiring the student who knows the best way to serve a table or how to check someone in—they are looking for the graduate who understands why a GOP is not to budget or why they are not above the marketplace in their competitive index,” Ricci explains. Taking a look at the feedback Ricci receives from companies where his former students are employed, the one consistency he has noticed is the understanding of financial-driven business.