UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When Arthur Cressman returned to school to complete his business degree after 20 years, he knew he was taking a life-changing step.
“I was not ready for college my first time around, and I carried the regret of quitting with me as my career progressed,” said Cressman, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business in 2020. “I knew completing a business degree would literally change my life, which it has.”
Since 2006, the Bachelor of Science in Business program has helped prepare people like Cressman to take major steps toward their goals — starting new jobs after graduation or attending graduate school. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the business degree program, which is offered online through Penn State World Campus and a consortium of Penn State campuses.
“My education at Penn State allowed me to see how much I could accomplish if I set my sights on a goal,” said Cressman, who has enrolled in an MBA program since graduating and serves as director of U.S. sales for a small distribution company. “I plan on utilizing my degree to make a career change and push myself into new business ventures. My business degree will help me beyond measure moving forward, of that I am sure.”
Over the past 15 years, more than 2,000 students have graduated from the business programs. There have been 1,262 students who have earned the bachelor’s degree, and another 740 students have completed the Associate in Science in Business Administration program. Students who receive the associate degree can continue into the bachelor’s program after they apply and are accepted.
Currently, there are almost 1,300 students in the undergraduate business programs, with almost 1,000 in the bachelor’s program and more than 300 in the associate degree program.
The bachelor’s in business is a 120-credit online degree program that gives students the chance to focus on accounting, entrepreneurship, financial services, health services, or management and marketing — or create their own plan in consultation with their academic adviser.
Veronica Godshalk, faculty director of the program and professor of management, said many students are adult learners who return to school to finish their degree. The program has seen CEOs, CFOs, and entrepreneurs who wanted the experience of a business education, she said.
“We're focused on providing students with a fairly cross-disciplinary program that covers many of the functional aspects of the business world,” Godshalk said. “We have worked very hard to assure students that their Penn State diploma is the same program that they’d get at any other campus or college, and I think that's the real value in what we are providing.”
The beginning of an online bachelor’s degree program in business
The bachelor’s in business has its roots in a distance education program offered at several Penn State campuses in the 1990s. In the 2000s, after Penn State launched Penn State World Campus, faculty and administrators recognized the need for an undergraduate business degree online and used the distance education version as a model.
Ali Kara, a professor of business administration at Penn State York, helped develop the online version in the mid-2000s.
Kara said faculty worked with a team of instructional designers to create courses that meet the needs of adults learning online. Adult learners needed flexibility to be able to do their course work when it was convenient for them, not by watching live lectures.
Today, the bachelor’s in business has students in 42 states and in 18 countries around the world. It also has the highest enrollment of any Penn State World Campus undergraduate program.
Cody Klingler had previously earned a bachelor’s degree in another field but later realized it was not for him. Because his family owns a company, he wanted to learn skills to help with the business. Klingler also works as a merchandising manager for a furniture store and five flooring stores.
“I feel more confident in being able to delve into the inner workings of any business, and I definitely have the skills to be able to do so,” said Klingler. “My role in the last three years has changed significantly, and I attribute a lot of that to what I learned from the business program and being able to look at things from a different perspective that I may not have had previously.”
Another graduate, Danielle Myrick, said the program’s flexibility was appealing because she did not have to miss out on life while getting her degree. While earning her degree, Myrick got married and started her family.
Since graduating in 2016, Myrick was promoted to a managerial position and said her salary increased significantly. She credits these accomplishments to her degree and the skills she learned.
“Before I graduated, I felt like the outside world would assume I was unworthy of certain positions without a degree, but that has all changed now,” said Myrick.
“I know that I am capable of tackling any tough challenges that come my way after having taken on the goal of earning my degree and following through with it.”
Resources for undergraduate business students
Frank Sorokach, assistant program director, said students have IT, library services, and writing support, and some courses, such as those in accounting and finance, have tutoring available. A business club led by students aims to engage those in the major.
Students are required to arrange for an internship that gives them between 150 and 300 hours, or three to six credits, of practical experience.
Gina Whalen, the director of the internship program, said an average of 150 students complete an internship each school year, and some internships result in job offers.
Whalen said the internships provide valuable learning experiences for students in the major, who are, on average, 31 years old and often have families and full-time jobs.
In the past, business interns have helped small retailers set up Amazon marketplaces and helped with HR department processes such as onboarding and training. They have held positions in hospitality, event planning, social media marketing, nonprofits, and more.
Myrick created an internship at the company where she worked while she was finishing her degree. She worked full-time to complete the foundation of a price-profiles project that centralized company-wide information, and it led to her being promoted after she graduated.
“I would not be where I am in my career today without this degree,” said Myrick. “The flexibility offered is paramount, and the camaraderie you have with your fellow classmates, especially the farther along you get in your studies, provides a truly satisfying experience.”
Learn more about the business degree on the Bachelor of Science in Business page.