How educators perceive the current state of hospitality education

(The state of hospitality education)

The Tisch name is ubiquitous across the New York University framework, a network whose nucleus is Washington Square Park in Manhattan. It stretches out from there like the branches on a family tree, uptown and downtown, and all the way to Paris and Shanghai. There is the Tisch School of Arts, whose graduates include film directors Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee, among other Hollywood luminaries, and the Tisch Hospital.

The Tisch name is also synonymous with hospitality—Loews Corporation, whose hospitality arm is Loews Hotels & Resorts—traces its roots back to the 1940s when brothers Robert and Laurence Tisch started investing in hotels, before building their own in 1956. The rest, as they say, is history.

So it’s no surprise that when NYU established its hospitality program, the Tisch name was prominently involved. The Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management of the NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies opened in 1995 to train undergraduates and graduates in the finer points of hospitality—from marketing and finance to revenue management and legal.

Twenty-one years later, the Tisch name remains, but Robert’s son, Jonathan, co-chairman of the board of Loews Corporation and chairman of Loews Hotels, is now the flag-bearer. The name change to the Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism was announced during this past NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference, and, according to Tisch, is a humble honor.

“The family has been very fortunate with its relationship with NYU,” he said. “Now to have the Center named after me—it is very humbling.” The name change begs the question: Will the Center’s vision change? Answering that is Kristin Lamoureux, who was named associate dean and a clinical associate professor of the Center in the fall of 2015. “Everything has to grow up, and we’re at the 21-year mark,” she said. “The first generation of the Center was very much about figuring out what hospitality education at NYUSPS looks like. Now we’re established and this is the launching pad to really make ourselves known as a leader in hospitality education.”

One of the ways she and the Center will look to do that is through better leveraging of the NYU Hospitality Conference, held annually in June at the Marriott Marquis. “I was struck by how well known NYU is around the conference, but not necessarily known as a place for hospitality and tourism education,” Lamoureux said. “We are spending quite a bit of time relooking at and rethinking hospitality education from the purview of a school of professional studies, which is different than looking at it from a tenure-track theory. We’re an active industry and we need to be educating our people to work in that industry.

“The next area that we see as a priority for us is industry engagement, and really looking at how do we not just invite people from the industry into the classroom, but really change the delta.”

From left: NYU President Andrew Hamilton, Tisch Center Associate Dean Kristin Lamoureux, Jonathan M. Tisch and NYUSPS Dean Dennis Di Lorenzo at the 38th Annual NYU Hospitality Conference.

The state of hospitality education

But with soaring tuition prices, is a degree in hospitality worth it? Many of today’s C-level executives began their careers as busboys or dishwashers and worked their way up, oftentimes eschewing the cost of school along the way. Still, “interest in hospitality education remains strong at major hospitality institutions,” Arjun Singh, international lodging, finance and real estate professor in The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University, said, adding, though, that programs are shifting to a more business-centric focus.

There are challenges, however; namely, “finding good faculty and administrative leadership,” since hospitality can be highly specified. “Having the combination of industry experience, educational credentials, strength in research and student focus is important,” Singh said.

As the hospitality industry continues to become more international and more complex, hospitality schools find themselves in an enviable position—if they are able to deliver on their promises and compete. “The hospitality industry is becoming increasingly global and with the growth of the profession in emerging markets, such as China, it is important for U.S. hospitality institutions to remain the standard bearer of quality education,” Singh said. “The needs of the profession are becoming more complex: ownership entities are more sophisticated, technological trends, external disruptors, regulatory changes impacting labor and how business is run. Hospitality programs need to remain on the cutting edge of these changes.”

Donna Quadri-Felitti, the director and associate professor of hospitality management at Penn State University, has a distinguished, published career teaching hospitality, with a keen focus on student development. (Before joining Penn State, she taught in NYU’s hospitality program.) She has been witness to the germination of hospitality education and its subsequent trajectory.

“Hospitality education is coming out of a decade-plus of growth, where we’ve seen a lot of schools step up and expand their degree programs—that’s because of the global demand for managers and the like,” she said. There is a need for it, she added, pointing to the opening of new markets and tourism growth. “You need to accommodate that need,” she said.

To be sure, working in hospitality necessitates a diverse skill set. “It’s why we attract individuals with high [emotional intelligence] and high IQ,” she said.

Few people know the hospitality industry better than Jonathan Tisch. And it’s clear to him: education matters. “There is something about the lodging industry that attracts a certain personality, and because we live in such a globally interconnected world, and tourism has become the No. 1 industry in the world, you do need a view of, ‘if you’re interested in hospitality, how does that fit into the global industry,’” Tisch said. “As your career evolves and you take on more responsibility, you really need to know your particular business very well. The way that you become more aware of your discipline is through a combination of education and experience.”