KANSAS CITY — When it comes to attracting the best business students these days, Ali Mallekzadeh knows what it takes.
"Very astute students walk through the doors of your college with a check list," said Mallekzadeh, dean of Kansas State University's College of Business Administration. "They are asking: 'Do you have an entrepreneurial center, and an international business center, a financial trading center, a place to start a new business? And by the way, do you have an espresso machine?'
"And the answers need to be 'yes' if you want to stay competitive."
Lots of universities are saying "yes" right now, erecting big new buildings for their business schools, facilities filled with 21st-century technology to support the latest teaching methods.
The University of Kansas last week announced plans for a $60 million building for its School of Business, double the size of the current facility.
The University of Missouri-Kansas City already has its new business school building in the works. K-State expects to put up a $50 million building in the near future.
Call it a "business school building arms race" — that's how Robert Mittelstaedt, the dean of Arizona State University's Top 25 business school, puts it. His school's new building, scheduled to open next year, "is not just to attract more students, but to make room for all the stuff we've now got crammed into a five-pound bag," he said.
A list compiled by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business shows that more than 100 business schools across the country have either completed a new building this year, renovated or expanded an old one, or are raising money for a new one. Among other regional entries: new buildings for Washington University in St. Louis, to open in 2013, Oklahoma State University (2015) and the University of Nebraska (2016).
In the Kansas City area, no other public or private universities are on the list. MU's Robert J. Trulaske Sr. College of Business opened in 2002.
"My personal survey of the landscape shows that there is an increased emphasis on building new business schools tied to an increased interest in naming opportunities from alumni," said Douglas Viehland, executive director of the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs.
When UMKC's new 65,000-square-foot, four-story building opens next fall, it will include a business startup brainstorming area and innovation lab. It's being built with a $32 million gift UMKC received from Henry W. Bloch in 2011.
KU's push for a new building started Thursday with a $20 million gift from the Capitol Federal Savings Foundation. The building will allow KU to adopt new methods of teaching business, dean Neeli Bendapudi said.
The professor at the head of a lecture hall or classroom is the way of the past. Students now work in teams, creating their own businesses and taking them from the classroom to the market. They work on mock international trading floors and in simulated business environments.
K-State will soon launch a campus-wide fundraising campaign that will include money for a new business college building on its Manhattan campus.
The existing building is more than 100 years old and not big enough for the school's 2,600 business students, Mallekzadeh said. The result: 60 percent of business classes are held elsewhere on campus.
Nationally, more students pursue bachelor degrees in business than in any other area of study, said Viehland, whose accreditation council represents 1,100 two- and four-year campuses, public and private. And according to the Business School Journal, the country saw a sharp rise in the volume of business master's degrees granted, from fewer than 5,000 in 1960 to more than 100,000 in 2000.
Viehland said that pattern of growth has continued during the last decade, albeit slowing some through the recession. But he said it is picking up steam as the economy improves.
With the growth has come increased competition for students — hence the drive to build more innovative business school facilities.
"That has been the history and that is the projection for the future," Viehland said. "You can say that colleges are bullish on business education."
They're bullish back East, where the University at Albany, the State University of New York, is eagerly waiting the completion next fall of a $64 million business school building. The architectural firm that designed the new building has in the last decade designed 18 business school buildings across the country.
The dean at Albany, Donald Siegel, said his new building is the first major academic facility to be built on the campus since the mid-1960s.
"We need this to be more competitive," he said. "We need this to catch up to our peers."
Across the country, at Boise State University in Idaho, the $35 million Micron Business and Economics Building opened this fall with a 14 percent increase in new business majors, said dean Patrick Shannon. "It does matter to business students, just like in athletics, whether a facility is attractive."
But it's more than looks, said Evan Kirsch, a UMKC business student.
"We want to follow our passions," he said. "But we also want to be around people in the field, professionals, business people who are looking at the university we choose. We want to be at a business school that has the latest opportunities."
It's also important the school be connected to the community so that students make contacts, Kirsch said. When he learned that UMKC's school was named for Bloch, "that was huge for me."
"I wanted to be at a school built by an entrepreneur who knows how to create jobs."