Dr. Ron Cichy considers himself fortunate. “All of my days are spent with the future,” he says from his office at Michigan State University (MSU), “and the future, of course, is hospitality business students.” Cichy has been director and professor at The School of Hospitality Business at MSU since 1988. He is a frequent speaker at lodging industry conferences and a board member of several hospitality industry institutes, foundations, and associations. In 2001, the Educational Institute of the American Hotel & Lodging Association honored Cichy as the Outstanding Hospitality Educator with the Lamp of Knowledge Award.
During his long tenure as an educator he’s come to realize that a hospitality education is essential in today’s industry. “Our philosophy is that we see [hospitality] as a special type of business that has lodging components, food service components, and some private club components,” he says. “The way we approach it here is to teach the functional areas within those segments.”
The need for specialized hospitality educational programs has been known for decades—dating all the way back to the 1920s when Cornell University started the first collegiate program for hotel and restaurant studies. In 1926, the Michigan Lodging Association urged Michigan Agricultural College to start what today is the MSU School of Hospitality Business. Back then it began simply as a hotel training program. “Since then, hospitality has evolved into a business,” Cichy says.
Hospitality schools have not only popped up at universities around the nation, but they’ve also thrived. And as the hospitality industry has evolved into a bigger, more encompassing business, the educational programs at hospitality schools have progressed with it.
Today’s hospitality education isn’t simply about running a hotel or a restaurant. Cichy illustrates today’s educational programs at his school as somewhat of a grid of various functional segments within the industry. “You can envision a grid that would have across the top the functional areas of a hotel such as human resources, accounting, marketing, technology, and food and beverage, then down the side there would be the various segments of the industry such as lodging, food service, and private clubs. Those can then be sub-segmented as well.” Cichy says. “We teach the functional areas of business within those segments. That’s really been the shift.
“If you look at typical multi-use developments that are taking place today you’ll find a hotel, condominiums, food and beverage, retail, etc., but all of those businesses have accounting, human resources, etc.,” he continues. “It’s the broad disciplines of business in the segments of the industry.”
Given the nature of today’s hospitality education, students are not only prepared for the hospitality industry but also business in general. “I think it can serve you well if you are a franchisee or if you have your own operation,” Cichy says.
Such segment study and general business practice education can serve today’s student well, especially considering that modern students are seeking more flexibility in their career choices. “What we hope to offer is flexibility, and that’s what we find students are looking for today,” Cichy says. “They realize that there’s tremendous cost to education these days, but there’s also an economic opportunity cost associated with not working while being in school—you’re not working full-time. So, when they go out on internships, they are looking for ways to connect and then be more flexible in the future through that work experience.”
Cichy sees hospitality education as a conduit for students today. He says his role and his school’s role is that of a connector. “My role is to connect students with alumni, students with the industry, and professors with students,” he says.
To that end, MSU’s program is set up to take advantage of the knowledge and experience of both full-time, tenure-system professors and part-time adjuncts—people who are industry faculty. MSU employs 11 tenure-system faculty members and 14 adjunct professors. “We’re seeing today that schools that use a strategic combination of full-time professors and part-time industry adjuncts offer a tremendous value to students,” Cichy says. As an example, at MSU, the on-campus hotel’s general manager teaches hotel operations, and a chief operating officer from a private club teaches private club operations.
“Students see that as a way to get not only what’s happening in the industry now, but also what the people who are writing the books are discovering through their research,” Cichy says.
Today’s hospitality students benefit from an extensive use of internships to get real-world work experience. Internships have become a vital part of most hospitality school programs not only for their benefits in teaching, but also to aid students in making valuable connections for their futures. “Internships are designed to expose student to different aspects of the industry,” he says.
He says that part of the reason for such hard work is to continue to build a resume. But, he also says, many of today’s hospitality students are working their way through school. “This work experience is seen as not only a way to get to know the industry and what you like about the industry, or maybe what you don’t like about certain segments of the industry, but also as a way to work your way through school.”
The Changing Student
Cichy has been involved with hospitality education for a long time and he’s seen many students come through the doors at MSU. He says he finds today’s students to be more focused than they were even five years ago. He says today’s students want a return on their education investment. He points back to the fact that many of today’s students are working to put themselves through school as compared to students in the past.
“I’ve had more students recently describe to me their dream of being an entrepreneur,” he says. “They realize that you don’t just leave school and become an entrepreneur, but you go to work for a company that has a strong focus on the owner and you learn to think like an owner.”
He says more students today enter hospitality schools with the idea of owning their own hotels, rather than simply running a hotel or working in an executive position at a brand.
Cichy also says that modern students are taking a pro-active approach to their preparation. “Five years and longer ago, students were satisfied to go to the International Hotel, Motel + Restaurant Show if they were a “hotelie” or the National Restaurant Show if they were a “foodie”. Today, they’ve discovered career-specific conferences,” Cichy says. “For example, students that are in our real estate development specialization want to go to the Americas Lodging Investment Summit. The students who aspire to be
club managers want to go to the Club Managers’ World Conference. So they’re much more career focused in terms of segment.”
Cichy says that he’s started to see more graduate students from international destinations as well. At MSU, more and more of the graduate students hail from the People’s Republic of China, Cichy says.
In addition, Cichy says that the makeup of students choosing a hospitality education has become more diverse. He says more than 60 percent of his school is made up of women. Not surprisingly, as the hospitality industry continues to expand overseas, there has become more focus on study-abroad programs. “Last year we had 70 students study on all seven continents,” Cichy says.
While Cichy agrees that students recognize the international opportunities emerging, they also recognize that many more companies from other countries are buying operations in the U.S.
As programs for high school students continue to increase (see “Learning Early,” page 38) collegiate hospitality students are entering their programs prepared and with better expectations of what the hospitality industry encompasses. “We try to encourage every one of our prospective students to get work experience while still in high school,” Cichy says.
But, he says, the academic preparation remains crucial. “Their academic preparation is absolutely critical,” Cichy says.
He does point out that the today’s students are less likely to come from family-owned operations than they were in the past. However, many are legacies of alumni, particularly at MSU. “I think the real telling point for us is that we’ve had whole groups of graduates of our school send their sons and daughters here,” he says.
Whether they’re following their parents’ lead or a found interest through high school programs, today’s hospitality students are different from days gone by. And, hospitality schools keep progressing as the industry evolves