Conn. university: competition for free tuition

Feb 18, 2012, 5:14 PM

Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Four years of tuition at the University of New Haven’s business school? About $120,000.

A chance to get it free? Priceless.

UNH’s new business school dean, a former MasterCard executive responsible for its “Priceless” advertising campaign, has issued a challenge to the university’s incoming freshmen: Bowl me over with your entrepreneurial idea and win free tuition for your undergraduate degree.

Larry Flanagan calls it an opportunity to draw the kind of creative students that the University of New Haven wants and to help carve out the small private school’s niche in higher education circles as an incubator for innovative business education.

“We have to zig where other schools zag and to find different ways of positioning ourselves,” said Flanagan, who became UNH’s business dean in June.

The unusual contest is also an example of new approaches that some former corporate executives are bringing to their new roles as business and management school deans. Flanagan is among several who’ve made the switch from the boardroom to academia in recent years, including business deans now at the helm at Pace University in New York, Boston University and North Carolina’s Wake Forest University.

Flanagan knows his program at UNH is smaller than many against which it competes to lure good students _ and that’s where his marketing instincts and unorthodox full-tuition competition come in.

The contest, known as the Dean’s Scholarship Challenge, made its debut this winter on Facebook and is open through March 1 to any incoming freshmen who’ve already been accepted or students transferring to the West Haven-based university’s business school.

The mission: Create a Facebook page about your business idea, including a company overview and tidbits on what makes it interesting or unique. Aim high, be innovative and, above all, impress Flanagan and the panel of business executives and faculty members who’ll be judging the entries.

Up to four students will win the full-tuition scholarships valued around $120,000. Twenty others will win iPads, and 50 others will each get $250 credits to the university’s bookstore.

“The concepts of entrepreneurialism, innovation and sustainability are constant themes going into the future in business education. It’s not a fad; it’s what the country was built on, people with entrepreneurial capabilities,” Flanagan said. “Those are the kind of students we want to attract, and to help them create and really understand their own brand.”

About 6,400 undergraduate and graduate students attend the small university, which was established in 1920 on Yale’s campus in a partnership with Boston-based Northeastern University.

It’s been at its West Haven site, a short drive from its New Haven roots but a world away from its Ivy League neighbor in size and scope, since 1960.

At $30,500 per year, tuition for UNH undergrads is lower than the $40,500 charged at nearby Yale. Both schools offer need-based financial aid packages, though the winners of UNH’s full-tuition business plan contest will be based solely on the applicants’ innovation, not their family finances.

Flanagan’s excitement is palpable as he talks about the contest, for which more than a dozen entries had already been submitted more than a week ahead of the deadline and which was expected to draw scores of others.

He’s been sharing the news on Facebook, through alumni and with prospective students on tours of the campus, where 20 percent of the students are in the business school.

“The kids are definitely interested, but when I get to the full-tuition part, it’s the parents’ eyes that really light up,” Flanagan said.

Flanagan graduated from UNH in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. He held high-ranking marketing positions at Procter & Gamble and L’Oreal USA before becoming the top marketing executive at MasterCard, where he spearheaded its much-imitated “Priceless” advertising campaign.

The full-tuition challenge at UNH isn’t his only competition for students there, though it’s the first of its kind in the school’s nearly 100-year history.

Another challenge, sponsored by Flanagan but open to all students, encourages undergraduates to work in teams to create and present business plans. Eight of them recently won iPads and time with advisers to hone their ideas, and about two dozen others are being coached to compete in a statewide business plan competition for college students.

Some students say they’re enthusiastic not only about the contests but also about the business school’s direction.

“It even goes past winning the iPad or getting the prizes and tangible things. It’s giving us an opportunity to actually succeed and start working on stuff that’ll actually be our life and our businesses when we get out of school,” said Gary Crawford III, a business major and freshman from Madison who’s building a video-based online auction system.

Paul Raffile, a sophomore from Wallingford, said having the “Priceless” advertising campaign’s architect heading the business school could have been intimidating but Flanagan’s demeanor and enthusiasm for students’ projects in the contests diffuses that.

“He’s pretty cool,” Raffile said. “We all know he had this huge, big idea that was so successful, but it doesn’t feel that nerve-racking to be around him. It really feels like he wants us to do well, too.”

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Conn. university: competition for free tuition