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Widener Blends Rigorous Academics with Paid Internships

Widener University’s School of Hospitality Management has a strong reputation in finance and is a school that is pole vaulting in the rankings. The school’s Dean Dr Nicholas Hadgis says international students are pleasantly surprised when they see the earnings from their internships in the US offset the tuition and fees. The “Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Education” ranked Widener’s hospitality management program among America’s Top 20.

Widener University’s School of Hospitality Management has a strong reputation in finance and is a school that is pole vaulting in the rankings. The “Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Education” ranked Widener’s hospitality management program among America’s Top 20. The school attracts international students with its rigorous financial management course work combined with dream internships.    

“International students are pleasantly surprised when they see the earnings from their internships in the US offset the tuition and fees. They all graduate with 1,400 hours of paid experience which combined with their academic preparation builds a strong resume,” said Dr Nicholas Hadgis, the founding Dean of the School of Hospitality Management of Widener University, in Pennsylvania.

The larger-than-life dean is committed to drawing students from around the world and has travelled to India, China, Ukraine and Russia to lecture and conduct workshops on strategic planning for the hotel industry.

Dr Hadgis received the Lindback Foundation Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Howard B Meek Award for outstanding service to hospitality education. Dr Hadgis talked to Uttara Choudhury in New York about the school he has built over three decades and how it turns out consummate professionals who are valued in the industry.    

As the founding Dean of Widener University’s School of Hospitality Management you would be the best person to talk about the need for professional hotel management skills. How does an American degree put a young person on the fast-track in the industry?

"...we are right in the northeast corridor and that location alone makes it very popular for international students who want to be near America’s major cities, yet have the university campus environment that is safe and comfortable."

The definer isn’t only an American degree because they differ so much from university to university. A student would be well-served to really look at the strength of the program. What puts us in the ranks of America’s “Top 20” is that we are one of the few free-standing schools of hospitality management with the dean reporting to the provost of the university, where the school is actually an independent program housed within a college, within a university. Too often a program takes on the bias of the college within which it is housed, so if it is housed in a college of food science the program is weighted towards food science courses. Therefore, a student has to be careful to differentiate the schools and what he wants to focus on.

The Widener school is strong on financial management and accounting we have a solid financial background. Very well prepared students graduate here who have management careers because of their ability to handle the financial end of the industry, as well as lead people. It is such a labor-intensive industry that the curriculum should also have components that help our students become better leaders of other people.  

Would you say the School of Hospitality Management of Widener University is popular with international students?

It really is. It has an excellent location seven miles south of the Philadelphia Airport and we are an easy train ride between Washington D.C and New York. So we are right in the northeast corridor and that location alone makes it very popular for international students who want to be near America’s major cities, yet have the university campus environment that is safe and comfortable.        

Widener offers a four-year Bachelor of Science degree with an emphasis on field experience and hospitality leadership. What are the highlights of this program and do students get industry experience?

The experiential component is very strong and that would be one of the highlights that we combine strong academic preparation with significant required industry experience. Every student within the bachelors program is required to do two paid summer internships of 400 hours each and a required co-operative education semester which is equivalent to 15 credits. They take a leadership development seminar once a week while they are working full time, again in a paid position.

For international students this is very important that we require these experiences because it is their degree requirement that gets them a work permit. They are pleasantly surprised when they can see the earnings they can make in the US can help offset the tuition and fees. They will all graduate with at least 1,400 hours of paid experience which combined with their academic preparation really builds a strong resume. Along with getting a degree you want to be able to graduate with a good resume that shows significant experience. Quite often the employers they have while working full time will make them job offers upon graduation.

I have had students do their 12-month Optional Practical Training after graduating with say a big hotel in Philadelphia, move with the Philadelphia chain not to their home country, but say to the Caribbean Islands or Europe where they want to spend time to build their careers.

What are the tuition fees for the full-time Bachelor of Science degree program in Hospitality Management?

For a year’s tuition it is around $32,000, say about $16,000 a semester. Then it is up to international students to choose their room and board. We have on-campus housing which we encourage them to use or housing near the campus so that they can walk to campus. We have sufficient on-campus housing for them all. Room and board would add another $4,000 to $6,000 a year to that $32,000 tuition if they use the full meal plan but there is some flexibility there there are options to how much of the meal plan they want to use. 

The maximum they would need to study here would be $38,000 a year if you add the $4,000 to $6,000 to the annual tuition fees of $32,000. Naturally, the living costs will vary if they select a single room or a double room.

Widener provides a big break on living costs.

"They (international students) are pleasantly surprised when they see the earnings they can make in the US can help offset the tuition and fees. They will all graduate with at least 1,400 hours of paid experience which combined with their academic preparation really builds a strong resume."

Yes. The state universities have to keep their state tuitions low as they are subsidized, so students find the room-and-board becomes very high as that is the part the state institutions have the freedom to raise fees on. Since Widener is similar to Cornell in that we are an independent accredited university we make sure that our tuition fees cover all the educational components, then room-and-board is the minor part. This works well for international students. We also have an International Student Office that can give them advice, support and guidance if they want to find their own housing.              

Over the course of a working life, can your graduates expect to recoup the cost of their education?

Yes, they really can. Even last year during the depressed economy of the last two years over 57% of my graduates started at $40,000 a year or above. And, that is in a recession. The career progression for our students is fairly strong and rapid because we are such a management-intensive industry. It is not unusual for a graduate to get their first promotion within the first six months on the job.

Some of my international students who have wound up staying in the US are reaching very senior positions at Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, the Marriott and food service companies like Aramark. In fact, food service companies should not be overlooked. We have had some students who came in not knowing much about that segment who have gotten very rewarding careers in the managed services part of the industry.

Are the casinos the big paymasters?

They can initially. But the casino industry can be getting overbuilt and the recession really hurt them. I have graduates who have been very successful at Atlantic City and Las Vegas. We actually have a Harrah’s Chester Casino and Racetrack just half a mile from our campus and the vice president of Harrah’s Casino is on my advisory board so we have a very close working relationship with Harrah’s. They do recruit here and indeed we have internships and co—operative education work experiences available with Harrah’s.      

Does Widener have any financial aid for international students enrolled in the bachelors program?

Yes, we do. Actually, an international student has the same opportunities for outright scholarships as a US student. Those scholarships are based on the academic success of a student coming in; it will depend on their academic record when they apply. The Financial Aid Office can also advise students on where they can seek out loans, but like US students they would have to find what best loans they can negotiate.

What does an international student have to do to get admission into your four-year Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management program? Do you all look at SAT scores, or rely on the ACT results? Do admission requirements also include TOEFL or IELTS scores?

We are very flexible. We don’t require SAT or ACT or TOEFL scores, but if they have them then they are used. If they don’t have them then it is not an issue as long as they can document English proficiency. There are a number of ways they can do that. If they have attended an English language institute they can get a rating from them. That is explained very clearly on our website that admissions will accept any of those documentations.

"Actually, an international student has the same opportunities for outright scholarships as a US student. Those scholarships are based on the academic success of a student coming in; it will depend on their academic record when they apply."

Applicants should have good verbal and math skills. They are going to need the math skills in the strictly financial area of the curriculum; the verbal skills are important because they are being developed to lead other people. To be a good leader you have to be a good communicator. We have English and writing intensive courses that are required on the curriculum so some students do need to improve their writing even after they are admitted. There might be one essay in the admissions process.  

Are all applicants required to have an admissions interview?

No one interviews in our program.

Do most of your admitted students have experience working in the hospitality industry?

Not necessarily when they are admitted because we are comfortable that we have rigorous work experience requirements once they participate in the program. However, we have had a number of students come to us from India with very good work experience. The more experience the better, but that is not critical in the admissions process.   

Do you all organize on-campus recruiting events?

"Applicants should have good verbal and math skills. They are going to need the math skills in the strictly financial area of the curriculum; the verbal skills are important because they are being developed to lead other people."

Yes, we have a major career fair every February. Some 40 recruiters will be on campus then as well as many guest lecturers from industry throughout the year. We also try to get students involved with professional trade organizations where they can go to international conferences and national conferences in the US. We are very clear that not all learning goes on in the confines of the classroom and it is important to network with other members of the industry. We have one of the 14 student chapters of the American Hotel and Lodgings Association; we have one of the three chapters of The National Association of Catering Executives and the student chapter of the Club Managers’ Association for those who want to look at country club management.       

Do you all offer any other degree or diploma courses?

We have a Master of Science in Hospitality and Tourism. Students who have a Bachelors degree can apply to this program. I just received an email from someone in Ahmedabad with a Bachelors degree from the Indian Institute of Hotel Management and work experience with the Taj Hotels who wants to come to get our Masters degree. Our Masters program takes closer to two years to complete. It can be accelerated but again there is a work component so they will get a work permit within the Masters program.           

Can you enumerate some of the professional development services that you offer? Do you all have a career services office that helps students?

I run undergraduate classes with 10 students or more, so the professors here can really help students. Along with the placement office, they help students in preparing their resumes and developing their interview skills. During our co-operative education semester we have seminars focusing on leadership styles and prepare students to interview for industry. Knowing yourself is half battle so that you can apply to the right segment of the industry for the right job. At the start to the Co-operative Education semester every one of our students takes the Myers-Briggs personality test. We analyze each personality and spend time developing the leadership capability of each student at Widener’s hospitality program.

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