In a world of diversification and consolidation, how has the role of banking schools changed?

The banking industry has always stressed continuing education. As a result, banking has always been thought of as a profession rather than a job.

And banking schools have traditionally been both appreciated and loved. Back in the days when few bankers went to college, schools like Stonier, Prochnow, Southwestern Graduate School of Banking, and the like were, for many, the only advanced education they ever got.

These days, however, about 97% of banking school students are already college graduates, with as many as 25% holding advanced degrees. So to keep their relevance, the schools have to provide different challenges and opportunities.

Talking to Charles Hoffman, director of the ABA's Stonier Graduate School of Banking, I learned that the school is now teaching investments and use of interest insurance-areas that banks are entering. But more important, Mr. Hoffman stresses, is education in leadership.

About 80% of Stonier's students take a leadership option in which they combine research with analysis of an issue that can help their own banks-be they big or small.

To emphasize the value of these projects, Stonier invited back as faculty two recent students whose projects markedly affected their banks.

One, from Banc One, used his results from Stonier to revamp his bank's incentive compensation program.

The other, a community banker from Pennsylvania, developed a program that made his bank among the first Internet service providers to be approved by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

They will be helping students develop similarly useful thesis projects.

About 5% who attend Stonier are chief executives. Then there is a large contingent of vice presidents and then senior and assistant vice presidents.

More and more students are coming from community banks. Larger banks often feel they can get more bang for the buck by having their own training programs. And when they want employees to go outside, they prefer them to go to executive MBA programs at academic institutions, where they can mingle more with nonbankers and gain better insight into what these executives think and want from banks.

On the other had, those who go to banking schools find themselves mingling and learning from regulators, thrift executives, and others who are not bankers but who will affect their own careers and the well-being of their banks.

Who is doing the teaching?

Mr. Hoffman acknowledges that there are fewer bankers at the podium than in the past. Despite their deep knowledge of their subjects, many do not have an effective delivery.

And though students need to learn complex topics like how insurance and investment products fit into traditional community banking, and many of the bankers have been involved in this transition, too many rely on "war stories" that do not teach the structure needed to implement these programs. Thus Stonier continues to rely heavily on academics but, more and more, supplements them with consultants who were once bank officers.

Stonier typifies the graduate program, but the regional and state schools, largely run by state bankers associations, remain in strongdemand as a source of basic training.

Attending classes at schools such as the Mid-South Banking School and the Northern New England School, one inhales an enthusiasm that matches that of any educational institution anywhere. And even though these are not graduate schools, their students work just as hard and cover many of the same areas as the major schools.

So though consolidation in banking and cost containment have had effect on most bankers' schools, their infrastructures are still in place, working effectively to ensure that work in banking remains a profession and not just a job.

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