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JoAnn Johnson spends her days delivering foals, cleaning the teeth of mares and attending to ailing nags.

But at night, the veterinarian tackles a challenge that one might call a horse of a different color. She trades in her medical instruments for textbooks and leaves local farms for more scholarly pastures.

The 28-year-old Town of Aurora resident is among a new crop of local students who are pursuing graduate degrees in business administration and began MBA classes last week at several local colleges and universities.

The dean at the University at Buffalo School of Management said Ms. Johnson's situation illustrates the growing diversity of individuals who will use their degrees to further a hodgepodge of professional goals.

How diverse are the students who have enrolled in UB's three MBA programs this fall? In addition to the horse vet, there's a golf pro from Arizona, a drum major, a professional bassoonist and a trading-floor manager.

There are also former West Point cadets, research scientists, inner-city youth counselors and even a caretaker of a Zen community.

Dean Lewis Mandell said UB's Executive and Professional (part-time) MBA programs have record enrollments this fall. Enrollment in the full-time program is up about 13 percent over last year's level.

An official from the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business said the trends at UB mirror what's happening in other regions. Bill Laidlaw said that while fall enrollment figures won't be finalized until October, it appears as if more people are entering MBA programs. And he said there's a growing diversity of students.

"We're definitely seeing more entrepreneurs and other types of small business people who are in specialized niche markets," said Laidlaw. "There are all indications that this is going to be a strong year for MBA programs."

Enrollment in Niagara University's MBA program is up about 5 percent over last year, according to director Charles G. Smith. Niagara operates an evening program and an accelerated MBA curriculum on Saturdays.

A number of other educational institutions also have MBA programs, including Medaille College, Empire State College and Canisius College.

Laura McEwen, director of graduate business programs at Canisius, said about 400 students are enrolled in the evening MBA program. She said the numbers are slightly lower than last year's evening enrollment, but she thinks it's because some students have opted to enroll in Canisius' new full-time MBA program. The first round of classes began last week.

"We originally set a goal of 15 students, but demand for the new full-time program was so strong that we increased it to 23," Mrs. McEwen said.

The positive trends on both the local and national levels come at a time when some experts have warned of rough sailing for MBA graduates, citing stock market volatility, uncertainty in world financial markets and large layoffs at some prestigious Wall Street firms.

But a growing number of people from the small business sector are pursuing MBAs, including Dr. Johnson. She is an employee at Great Lakes Equine Practice, a horse veterinary clinic in East Aurora.

"We're a small business with only five people, including the owner," said Dr. Johnson. "We all assume various management roles at one time or another, so I thought about it over the summer and decided to go for an MBA."

Dr. Johnson hopes to own her own veterinary clinic or become a partner in one at some point in the future.

She said her boss has encouraged her to pursue the degree. He has even rearranged her schedule to ensure that Dr. Johnson won't be paged out of evening classes to deal with colicky quarter horses or other emergencies.

Mandell said the number of out-of-town students enrolled in UB's MBA programs is up 25 percent over last year. There's even a large contingent of foreign students who hail from India, Thailand, Korea, Russia and other countries.

Mandell said the cultural, professional and geographic diversity of the students will further strengthen the program.

"A lot of what we do is based on the shared experiences of students. The instructor almost becomes an orchestra conductor who helps to foster a shared-learning environment," he said.

According to statistics compiled by the St. Louis-based American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business, 55 percent of all MBA students enroll in part-time programs. Full-time programs typically take two years to complete, while part-time programs are often completed in three to four years, depending on the student and the institution.

Laidlaw said a growing number of institutions are offering specialized programs to cater to niche markets and class schedules that better conform to the lifestyles of busy professionals.

Mrs. McEwen said that as a number of local schools compete more aggressively in the MBA arena, there will probably continue to be innovations.

"We will all have to be more in tune with needs of our customers -- the students," she said.

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