Energy Business Degree: An 'Automatic Edge'

If you plan to get one of the new energy-related business degrees now being offered at select schools across the country, prepare to devote your career to the industry.

That’s the message from university educators working in the relatively new energy-themed, advanced-degree programs.

“I tell every student, ‘If you don’t want to be in the energy industry the rest of your life, you should not be in this program,’” said AAPG member Tim Coburn, director of the School of Energy Economics, Policy and Commerce at The University of Tulsa.

In the past, technical professionals usually returned to school mainly to get an advanced degree in their specialty. A petroleum geologist, for example, might pursue a master’s degree or even a doctorate in geoscience.

But in recent years, several universities have begun to offer master’s-level business degrees with a very specific focus on energy. Those programs are, for the most part, aimed at people currently working in the industry.

Potential degree candidates should be aware of two other requirements for these programs:

  • Bring serious commitment.
  • Bring some serious money.

Energy-related business courses come in two broad types. First are master’s degrees in business with a focus on the energy industry, which typically have a name like “Master of Energy Business.”

Those programs usually take 10 to 24 months to complete, with total tuition costs between $40,000 and $60,000, excluding travel and any required textbooks.

Classes are structured to accommodate students with full-time jobs, but some period of on-campus residency is always involved.

The University of Tulsa has the lightest requirement – two executive-style seminars conducted over the course of the program with other sessions online.

The University of Colorado Denver offers a hybrid Master of Science in Global Energy Management program.

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If you plan to get one of the new energy-related business degrees now being offered at select schools across the country, prepare to devote your career to the industry.

That’s the message from university educators working in the relatively new energy-themed, advanced-degree programs.

“I tell every student, ‘If you don’t want to be in the energy industry the rest of your life, you should not be in this program,’” said AAPG member Tim Coburn, director of the School of Energy Economics, Policy and Commerce at The University of Tulsa.

In the past, technical professionals usually returned to school mainly to get an advanced degree in their specialty. A petroleum geologist, for example, might pursue a master’s degree or even a doctorate in geoscience.

But in recent years, several universities have begun to offer master’s-level business degrees with a very specific focus on energy. Those programs are, for the most part, aimed at people currently working in the industry.

Potential degree candidates should be aware of two other requirements for these programs:

  • Bring serious commitment.
  • Bring some serious money.

Energy-related business courses come in two broad types. First are master’s degrees in business with a focus on the energy industry, which typically have a name like “Master of Energy Business.”

Those programs usually take 10 to 24 months to complete, with total tuition costs between $40,000 and $60,000, excluding travel and any required textbooks.

Classes are structured to accommodate students with full-time jobs, but some period of on-campus residency is always involved.

The University of Tulsa has the lightest requirement – two executive-style seminars conducted over the course of the program with other sessions online.

The University of Colorado Denver offers a hybrid Master of Science in Global Energy Management program.

Jim Marchiori, director of Global Energy Management at the school, said the program covers six academic quarters, each of which begins with four days of in-residence classes. The remainder of the coursework is online.

Marchiori said the program targets early- to mid-career professionals who have reached the top of a technical specialty job ladder or who need additional business education to take on more management responsibilities.

“Our average student age is 34,” he said. “Almost all of our students, over 90 percent of them, are already employed in the energy industry.”

Getting Down to Business

The second type of energy business degrees are Master of Business Administration with a focus on energy. Those MBA degree programs can have a total tuition cost of $80,000 or more.

Energy MBA programs also tend to be tailored for working students, offering evening classes and even online sessions.

The University of Oklahoma’s Executive MBA in Energy degree curriculum combines online distance learning with three one-week residencies, including an international study experience.

Some other schools take a traditional, on-campus approach to energy business education.

Tulane University has a 10-month, full-time Master of Management in Energy program beginning each July. Tuition and fees total about $60,000; room, board, books, insurance and incidentals are extra. The Tulane program concentrates on quantitative business skills.

At least a dozen universities in the United States now offer some variation of the energy business master’s or energy MBA curriculum, and there are numerous similar programs in other countries.

Employer financial support helps make the cost of energy business degrees affordable for many students. But Coburn said in downturn periods, industry educational assistance is one of the first things to dry up.

At UC Denver, “when we first started, most of our students were fully supported by their companies,” Marchiori said. “That started to go away in the 2009-10 downturn.”

The Bottom Line

In developing their energy business courses, universities often consult with businesses about industry needs.

The University of Tulsa had an undergraduate energy business program and conducted numerous conversations with business executives and managers before creating a graduate degree in the specialty.

“In response to the success of the undergraduate program, the decision was made to put something into place at the graduate level,” Coburn explained.

To direct the program, “they were looking for someone with industry experience, with management experience, with teaching experience. I was kind of the intersection of all that,” he said.

Today, Coburn finds, companies are “looking for project management skills, in all kinds of projects. They’re looking for people who have business savvy, people who know something about the bottom line.”

Marchiori also moved into graduate education from the energy industry.

“I, at the time this program was developed, was director of organization capability for DCP Midstream,” he said.

DCP Midstream became one of the UC Denver program’s founding entities, along with Encana Corp., Pioneer Natural Resources and Venoco Inc., he said.

When his company wanted to groom an employee for management or develop an individual to take on greater responsibilities, business knowledge was always a factor, Marchiori noted.

“Every conversation, without exception, on who the company wanted to develop always hinged on two things,” he said – “broad business acumen, and the other is leadership and being able to work with people.”

Flex Time

To maximize career opportunity, universities offering energy business degrees define “energy industry” broadly. Students prepare for a possible future in oil and gas, coal, power generation, alternative and sustainable energy and other energy-related businesses.

“Probably 50 percent of our student material and 50 percent of our class time looks specifically at oil and gas, and 25 percent-ish at power generation and public utilities,” Marchiori said.

A common procedure requires every student to complete a core group of courses designed to build general business knowledge with specific applications to the energy industry. Students then can choose from a set of additional elective courses.

“We give them all the same core and tell them, ‘We want you to be able to flex your career very easily when you leave here,’” Coburn said.

“It always helps them to come in and know what they want to do. One of our hallmarks is the ability, and the agility, to create courses on the fly,” he added.

Graduates not only improve their job outlook and become more valuable to their companies; they also gain a broader understanding of how the industry works and how employers make decisions.

“I’ve dealt with geoscientists over the years and there’s a level of frustration when the project that the company decides to pursue isn’t the most beneficial project geologically,” Marchiori noted.

He emphasized the demanding nature of the course of study in energy business programs, and the level of commitment needed to complete a degree. One of his students dropped out of the program and switched to studying for a standard MBA, Marchiori said.

“It’s a rigorous program. They’re challenged. It’s not just a stamp on their résumé,” he said.

Coburn said students can find themselves doing 20 hours of graduate course work a week after spending 50 or 60 hours on the job.

“It takes a commitment and it takes organization,” he said. “The thing I see most is people getting behind early, because they haven’t set a goal to finish.”

Still, Coburn has no doubt about the value of an energy business degree and its importance for individuals wanting to advance their careers in the energy industry.

“It gives you an automatic edge up,” he said.

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