Baruch MFE Baruch MFE Featured in FE News


Dr. Dan Stefanica, director of the Master of Science Program in Financial Engineering program at Baruch College (part of the City University of New York or CUNY), is a man with a vision and in a hurry. Stefanica completed a Ph.D. in applied mathematics at the Courant Institute of New York University and was an Applied Mathematics Instructor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Since 2002, he has led the effort at Baruch College to establish a leading Master's program for financial engineering. Now having obtained funding from the school's administration to dramatically expand the program, it has been officially renamed the Master of Financial Engineering (MFE) program and provided the budget to add new faculty (academics and practitioners) and continue an impressive five-year growth trend.

"In the first years of the program, 2002-2006, we were called the Masters in Applied Mathematics for Finance program. While in 2002, all courses were taught by mathematics department faculty, about half of our courses are now taught by Wall Street practitioners," Stefanica explains. "And our program applications more than tripled from 58 in 2002 to 184 in 2006. We looked at this growing demand, spoke to employers who were hiring our students about their needs and made a successful case to expand the program with the university. Hence the change of name to the Master of Financial Engineering, or MFE, program beginning this year."

The Baruch program is what Stefanica defines as a professional masters program. "Our goal is to graduate highly qualified professional financial engineers who work in the financial industry as financial engineers, risk managers, quants on trading desks, structured products analysts and so on. And we provide them with the placement assistance needed to find attractive job opportunities at leading employers." The program can be completed on either a full-time or part-time basis with a full-time commitment consisting of three semesters that begin in September of a given calendar year and end in December of the next year. All classes are in the evening so that full-time and part-time students can participate together in the same learning environment. Tuition is currently $9,800 for New York State residents and $18,000 for out of state and foreign students.

The focus of the Baruch program is definitely on quantitative and computational financial analysis. According to Stefanica, "We really emphasize programming in C++. There are no 'black box' software programs in our curriculum. Black boxes spoil good people. They don't force you to think and program for yourself in terms of the algorithmics required to solve a problem. This requirement is based on direct feedback from employers who want graduates who can not only develop computational solutions to problems but also understand how they work, why they work, what the limitations to the solutions are and what trade-offs, if any, have been made."

Given the analytical rigor of the Baruch program, it's no surprise that there are nine required courses in the overall curriculum as well as a capstone project and presentation for each student prior to graduation. The required courses include Numerical Linear Algebra, Numerical Methods for PDEs in Finance, Stochastic Processes in Finance, Advanced Computational Methods in Finance and Interest Rate Models and Derivatives. There are also many elective courses within the program plus the option to take elective courses at Baruch's Zicklin School of Business. A few of the elective courses available in the program are Statistics for Finance, Credit and Market Risk Management, Elements of Structured Finance and Deal Theory and Structured Analysis. Class size averages about 20 students making it a highly interactive and close environment both between teacher and students and between students.

As for the unique features the Baruch MFE program, Stefanica cites the following five factors: "First, we are located right in Manhattan, the world's largest capital market. And we are now tapping the professional talent pool of this market to obtain the best of seasoned and experienced instructors to complement our academic rigor. Second, we offer students who already work in finance the option to attend on a part-time basis through evening classes but we don't treat them as second-class citizens compared to their full-time colleagues: Everyone takes the same classes and studies together. Half of our current enrollment is part-time students. Most part-time students complete the program in five to six semesters versus three semesters for full-time students. And as working financial professionals, these students bring their experience, real-world perspectives on problems and challenges plus their points of view into our classroom. Third, for New York residents we are able to offer a very attractive program cost versus other programs of our caliber. Fourth, we offer placement assistance to our graduates. Based on their training, we find this one of the easiest aspects of working with students. Our placement rate is over 90 percent at present with an average starting salary of about $100,000. And fifth, our students are running a web-based forum where students, alumni and now even outsiders are joining as a collective learning environment."

Among other unique aspects of the Baruch MFE program, Stefanica notes that because they are part of CUNY, there is no requirement to fill or limit any entering class to a given size (e.g., 30 students, 60 students, etc.) in order to make the program profitable. "We can set each class size to the exact number of students who we deem to be qualified to meet our academic standards. And with just over four years of running the program, we are finding that, while our admission rates are between 20 percent and 30 percent, over 80 percent of the students we admit enroll in our program. For example, last year we received 184 applications and accepted 42, of which 34 entered the program - half as part-time and half as full-time students."

Stefanica also notes that while the Baruch program is relatively new, its growth has spawned the development of an active and growing global alumni network among graduates. "In October 2006, over 50 percent of all our alumni participated at the kick-off event of the Baruch MFE Alumni Association, with some coming from London or Chicago to attend the event. One-on-one mentoring by alumni of our program is now offered to all current students," Stefanica notes. "We've also established a curriculum committee that includes our graduates so that we can continue to anticipate the trends in financial engineering and needs of employers in terms of highly qualified graduates."

As for the future of the Baruch MFE program, Stefanica is understandably upbeat. "Ten years ago, the role of the quant in the finance industry was filled by someone who had earned a Ph.D., whether it was in physics, computer science, applied mathematics or some related field. Today, the role of the quant is increasingly being filled by highly trained and talented professional financial engineers who possess a master's degree. Financial Engineering is now accepted as a legitimate field of study and a profession like the other fields of engineering most people are accustomed to. As a result, there is growing global demand for people who have an MFE degree as we offer at Baruch College. In fact, I've volunteered with several of my colleagues who are directors at other master in financial engineering programs to work with the International Association of Financial Engineers (IAFE) on a committee that will try to identify a core curriculum of study for this field.

This means that the Baruch MFE program will continue to be at the forefront of industry needs and academic requirements in this rapidly growing field.