Auburn University’s new online forest business and investment master’s degree to support career advancement for forestry, business professionals

Steven Spielberg

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Auburn University has launched a new online Master of Science degree program within the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences designed for working professionals seeking business expertise for career advancement within the forest industry.

“In addition to strengthening Auburn’s online degree options, our new program in forest business and investment will prepare professionals for leadership positions that are critical to advancing economic development and conservation in Alabama,” said Provost Bill Hardgrave. “Offering this kind of degree program enables Auburn to strengthen a vital component of our state’s and nation’s economy.”

Representing 4.5% of the U.S. manufacturing gross domestic product, or GDP, the forest industry encompasses a wide range of businesses, such as forest land management firms; financial institutions, including banks, creditors and insurance companies; large individual and institutional forest landowners; publicly traded timberland real estate investment trusts, or REITs; product manufacturers and distributors; harvesting contractors; forestry suppliers; and forestry consultants.

Due to the complexities of this resource industry, forest businesses require a workforce skilled in forestry technical skills, business techniques and financial decision-making to maximize their return to investors.

Often, professionals have expertise in either forestry or business, but rarely both.

“To gain the required business acumen, many forestry professionals have historically sought an MBA,” said Janaki Alavalapati, dean of the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences.

“However, a traditional MBA does not typically provide the background and understanding of the forestry-based skills and applications that forest investment and finance companies need to function effectively in the forest business and investment sector.”

Students who lack significant forestry knowledge will also gain forest industry-specific skills through a blended curriculum of forestry, business, finance and investments.

To acquire this business expertise, forestry professionals have typically relied upon in-person graduate programs, which can represent a hardship for those who would like to maintain their day-to-day lives.

“Traditional programs are appropriate for some individuals, but it is often impractical for working professionals to disrupt their home and work life to pursue a graduate degree at a major university,” said Marc A. Walley, president of Forest Investment Associates.

“We’re excited that our employees and other professionals within the forestry sector will have the opportunity to gain industry-specific business knowledge and skills with a degree from a top ranked university such as Auburn—and just as importantly—that they can remain productive and accessible to their families during the process.”

Auburn’s forest business and investments Master of Science degree, or FBI, requires 31 credit hours, 16 to 19 from the degree core and an additional 12 to 15 elective credit hours chosen from curricula such as finance, business administration, supply chain management, accounting and agricultural economics.

Core classes required include forest valuation and economics, forest operations and wood supply chain management, forest finance, accounting and taxation, financial analysis, forest statistics and a forest business and investments seminar. Students who do not have a forestry background or forestry degree will also need to take forest growth, silviculture and management.

While earning their degree, students can also advance their careers with a professional graduate certificate in forest finance and investment or supply chain management with a combination of four of the required supply chain and business courses.

Unlike traditional graduate programs, enrollment for the online degree does not require completion of the GRE exam or a thesis. The Auburn University Graduate School does require a 2.75 grade-point average. However, exceptions are permitted if sufficient justification is provided to the school.

Official enrollment for the new degree will begin the spring semester of 2022, after which students may enroll twice per year to begin their coursework in the spring or fall semesters.

Forestry and business professionals interested in the degree program are invited to attend a virtual open house on Dec. 8 from 6-7 p.m. CT. Preregistration is required. Attendees should register online to receive a Zoom link for the information session.

For further details about the degree curriculum, admissions policies and deadlines, students can learn more online or contact Jessica Daniel, online graduate program coordinator, at [email protected] or 334-844-1077 to submit a request for information about the program.

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