By  on August 13, 2014

LIM College has been through many changes throughout its 75-year history, but its mission has remained the same: to prepare its students for successful careers in the business of fashion.

As the third generation to head the college, Elizabeth S. Marcuse has been in the president’s role for 13 years. Her grandfather, Maxwell F. Marcuse, founded the school, formerly known as the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising, in 1939 as a one-year certificate program exclusively for women. Today, the college has morphed into a master’s degree-level institution with a bustling undergraduate program, multiple graduate programs and a growing global footprint. The school’s academic ascension was paved by Marcuse’s father, Adrian G. Marcuse, the previous president.

LIM College is the only school in the U.S. focused exclusively on the study of business and fashion, combining in-class instruction with required internships in the fashion industry — a hallmark of the school. The college, which received Middle States accreditation in 1977, focuses on the fields of fashion merchandising, visual merchandising, marketing and management.

In establishing the school, Maxwell F. Marcuse set up a mock store and experiential learning became the backbone of the institution. The original mission was to create a school for women to be trained in skills other than secretarial. Its first graduating class had 79 women. For fall 2014, projected enrollment is 1,604 undergraduates and 185 graduate students.

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One thing that hasn’t changed over the past 75 years is that the school is predominantly female. Some 93 percent of both undergraduate and graduate students today are women.

During her tenure, Elizabeth Marcuse has strengthened both her team and the course offerings. Her strategy has been to make LIM College’s students more globally and technologically competitive and to respond to what the fashion industry needs from its workforce in the 21st century. Marcuse herself is a product of the fashion industry, having worked as director of retail planning for Donna Karan International. She has also been a buyer for Montgomery Ward and Lane Bryant and began her career in the executive training program at Macy’s Inc.

This fall, LIM is launching two new degree programs: One is a Bachelor of Science degree in international business, and the other is its third master’s of professional studies degree, in visual merchandising.

“It’s the only one of its kind in the country,” said Marcuse, about the M.P.S. in visual merchandising. She said she has huge support from Saks Fifth Avenue, which is going to throw a launch party with the school in October. She believes the master’s degree will train students in analytical and critical thinking and right-brain creativity. It’s a one-year, 30-credit program.

In 2008, LIM College launched an M.B.A. program with two tracks: in entrepreneurship and fashion management. It graduated its first M.B.A. class in 2010. It also offers an M.P.S. degree in fashion merchandising and retail management and an M.P.S. in fashion marketing.

“The M.P.S. programs are extremely popular. They are one year, the students are getting a taste of the industry within their course work and the program culminates with an internship opportunity. We’re having tremendous success with them,” said Marcuse. She added that the master’s programs especially appeal to the international students. “Students from all over Asia, South America and Europe come to get a master’s or advanced degree in one year,” she said.

LIM is also expanding its undergraduate fashion merchandising degree and adding a third track: retail buying and planning.

“Clearly there’s a very strong interest in going back to the executive training programs,” she said. The school continues to offer courses in retailing, buying, merchandising planning and control. “Now what we’re seeing is a demand for deeper courses and more assortment of courses.”

The other programs are home fashion and apparel and accessories. Fashion merchandising remains its number-one undergraduate major, representing 50 percent of the students. The next most popular is marketing (17 percent), followed by management (7 percent) and visual merchandising (6 percent). Some 20 percent of incoming students are undeclared.

Marcuse said the digital revolution has changed a lot of what they do in terms of course offerings and sequencing. The school has added several courses within the marketing department that deal with digital marketing and e-commerce. For instance, it recently added a concentration called digital business strategy. In that concentration are courses such as fashion communications in a digital age, e-commerce, social media and mobile marketing, Internet and interactive marketing. Interestingly, two areas that are down-trending are styling and event planning, “which used to be the two buzz areas,” said Marcuse.

Among LIM College’s major selling points are its Manhattan location and its track record placing graduates into jobs in the fashion industry. Marcuse said it was too early to tell how the class of 2014 fared this year in the job market (they usually produce placement reports in December). But anecdotally, she said, many students had multiple job offers. For the class of 2013, 87 percent of undergraduates who responded to a survey were placed within six months of graduation. Within one year, 95 percent were placed. They are working at companies including Michael Kors, Saks Fifth Avenue (executive excellence program), Macy’s executive training program, The TJX Cos. Inc. and Iconix Brand Group Inc. Ninety-seven percent of graduate students were placed from the M.B.A. program. She said the M.B.A. students are typically getting operations and merchandising jobs, but many are entrepreneurs creating their own start-up companies.

Pamela Mufson, who graduated from LIM College with a B.B.A. in marketing in 2013, has her own jewelry line, Ela Rae Jewelry LLC, which she sells in Henri Bendel. She started that business while she was an undergraduate, said Marcuse.

At present, 79 percent of the students get some form of financial aid in scholarships, grants or loans. For the 2014-2015 academic year, undergraduate tuition is $23,650. Graduate school costs $855 per credit. The M.B.A. program is 51 credits in total, while the M.P.S. programs are 30 credits in total. LIM College is approximately 25 percent below the national average for private college tuition, said a spokeswoman.

LIM College draws mostly from the Tristate area. About 39 percent of the undergraduates come from New York and another 39 percent from New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, with other states accounting for 19 percent. About 2 percent are international. “We’re still a very strong regional college,” she said. In fact, Princeton Review has ranked LIM College among the “Best in the Northeast.”

One of Marcuse’s initiatives is to increase its international population on campus. It seeks to have 7 to 10 percent international students at the undergraduate level within the next three years. At the graduate level, New York accounts for 35 percent of the students; New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, 13 percent; other states, 28 percent, and international, 25 percent.

In a major repositioning five years ago, the school changed its name to LIM College, and the transition has been “absolutely seamless,” said Marcuse. “The students were using it long before we officially changed it.”

She said the new name has been a boost to marketing the college, particularly with students wearing the LIM College logo on sweatshirts, sweatpants and tote bags.

Unlike other schools with green lawns and quads, LIM considers New York City its campus. The college occupies several buildings on the Upper East Side. The Laboratory Institute of Merchandising began in a building at 45 West 34th Street, which at the time was the hub of department- and specialty-store retailing. In 1959, it moved to 677 Fifth Avenue, and in 1965 it bought the Townhouse at 12 East 53rd Street.

In 2003 and 2004, LIM’s campus expanded to 226 East 54th Street (which it no longer has) and 216 East 45th Street (Maxwell Hall), respectively, and in 2006, it added a state-of-the-art facility at 545 Fifth Avenue at 45th Street. Maxwell Hall houses the Center for Graduate Studies, a college bookstore, a new student center, Good to Go cafe and the Department of Experiential Education and Career Management.

Asked about her most important achievements, Marcuse takes little credit.

“Hiring the right people to help me do the right job. I have an amazing team of people from my top tier of senior executives through faculty and administration. Every time someone new comes on board, our team becomes more complex and more talented,” she said.

Among her key hires are Christopher J. Cyphers, executive vice president, former president of the New York School of Interior Design and former Provost of the School of Visual Arts, who joined in 2012. Jacqui Jenkins, former program director for the Wharton Small Business Development Center at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, came on board in 2013 as director of graduate studies.

Robert Conrad, who was recently named a full-time faculty member in the marketing, management and finance department, was previously senior vice president of design and product development for Limited Brands Inc., and Karen Oleson, who teaches part-time in the visual merchandising department, is the owner of Hambrecht Oleson Design, a leading store design firm.

Marcuse looks to not only recruit more international students, but to send more of its students abroad for internship opportunities and travel-abroad programs. This year, three seniors did internships in Ireland at a golf resort doing marketing and event planning, and two students had internships in Italy.

The college has been expanding the number of countries for study abroad and the roster now includes England, Australia, Spain and Italy. LIM has also launched a domestic exchange program with Suffolk University in Boston, in which Suffolk students come to LIM and LIM students study in Suffolk’s program in Spain.

There are some shorter travel-abroad courses that run two weeks in the winter and summer. These are typically three-credit courses. LIM also sponsors a three-week trip to China and has a dedicated trip each January to different Western European cities.

In March, LIM College hosted a group of 25 graduate students and faculty members from Japan’s Bunka Fashion Graduate University as part of the “Kakehashi Project: The Bridge for Tomorrow.” The program aims to help American students create and nurture an interest in international relations while advocating the strengths of Japan. It is promoted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, commissioned by the Japan-U.S. Educational Commission (Fulbright Japan), and co-organized with the Japan Foundation and The Laurasian Institution.

Besides the visit from Bunka students, 12 LIM fashion merchandising majors, fashion merchandising department chair Terry Burstein and professor Derek Cockle traveled to Japan in June for an all-expense-paid, 10-day study tour. “We actually had our dean of academic affairs in Rome for the month of July teaching,” Marcuse added. “The hope is that as more of that develops, we will also be bringing faculty from abroad to teach here.”

LIM was recently selected by the American Council on Education to participate in its Internationalization Laboratory. LIM is part of a cohort of 10 universities selected, including University of Montana, University of North Dakota and Grinnell College. Over the next two years, LIM will work with experts from ACE to further refine their globalization goals.

Living in Manhattan has become a big draw for students. Some 50 percent of LIM students live in the dorms and apartments around the city, and half commute. There are 370 students in the residence hall at 1760 Third Avenue (at 97th Street.)

“It’s a different animal of a student who applies here. He or she knows that they’re going to be studying a focused curriculum. It’s a more specialized environment, in terms of the things they will be concentrating on extra-curricularly. Most are so immersed in internships and volunteer opportunities,” she said.

Students are required to do three internships during their four undergraduate years. Freshman and sophomore internships are spread out over the semester so students are able to go to work and go to school. The senior internship is a full-time, four-day-a-week internship and on the fifth day they’re in class doing their final capstone project. Many of LIM’s courses are online. It offers fully online courses and hybrid programs. The school doesn’t offer a full degree online, but that might happen in the future. It could start with the graduate side, Marcuse said.

LIM College has a robust CEO Speaker Series featuring such industry heavyweights as Michael Gould, former chief executive officer of Bloomingdale’s; Bud Konheim, ceo of Nicole Miller; Graziano de Boni, ceo of Giorgio Armani Corp.; Rick Helfenbein, president of Luen Thai USA, and Glenn McMahon, ceo and president of Tamara Mellon. The CEO Speaker Series is intended for the graduate students and is also open to fashion scholars, which are a group of undergraduates who take a more rigorous course of instruction during their four years. They have higher SAT scores, have taken more AP courses and are looking for a more challenging program. There are 57 fashion scholars projected for the 2014-2015 school year.

LIM also offers an array of speakers and field trips for all undergraduates.

Despite all these strides, the president’s job is not without its challenges.

“There are always challenges. You always have to be aware of your external environment — who is your competition, who are the next generation of students coming out of high school and what are the trends in the fashion industry. The challenge is to remain relevant as an institution: What are the courses you’re offering? Who are your faculty? What are opportunities in terms of internships, study abroad? What [is the student] going to get at the end of my four years?” she said. “When you listen to the success stories, you realize we are relevant. The challenges we face are the economy, the environment, and that the world is more complex. What do we need to do as an institution to stay ahead of everything around us that’s changing? Otherwise, if you’re asleep at the wheel, your faculty will become irrelevant, your courses will be irrelevant and your internship opportunities will be irrelevant,” she said.

LIM alumni hold many leadership roles in the fashion industry, namely Neva Hall, executive vice president of specialty stores for Neiman Marcus Stores; Daniella Vitale, chief operating officer of Barneys New York; Doug Jakubowski, chief merchandising officer of Perry Ellis; Dianne Vavra, senior vice president of press relations at Dior Beauty, and Kathy Nedorostek, group president of global footwear and accessories at The Jones Group Inc. Marcuse sees multiple advantages to LIM’s size and specialization.

“As much as we’ve grown and as much as we’re poised to continue to grow, we recognize we’re specialized, we’re nimble. It’s a small class environment of 18 students and a 9-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. That will never change. The core of what is LIM in 1939 hasn’t changed. It’s the learning by doing, experiential education and the intimate environment,” she said.

Marcuse added that the best part about the education is being able to go out into the world, while they’re undergrads, and put what they learn in class into practice. “Lightbulbs start going on for them. Instead of being all theory, they’re able to make the connections,” she said.

Asked where she sees the family-owned institution in 75 years, Marcuse said: “Seventy-five years from now, 2089, what will be world be like? I would assume LIM will be as relevant and meaningful to the fashion industry. We will ebb and flow to the world’s demands. As long as people need to wear clothes or there’s a reason for the fashion industry to exist, I see LIM existing, and I see it morphing with the needs of the industry. Ultimately, this may not mean you have a brick-and-mortar campus. You don’t know what the future brings. Who knows what technology brings?” she said.

Despite all the emphasis on technology, Marcuse mostly enjoys personal interaction with the students.

“I love it all, but I think what I love the best is the students. If you don’t wake up and want to change a young person’s life, you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing,” she said. “I interact with students around campus or travel with them and get to know them at certain events around the institution. They inspire me every day. They’re the ones who teach me things. I get chills at commencement, especially the ones I know the best. When their lights go on, when their body language changes, to see an impact you’ve made in somebody’s life.…”

She believes students have a tangible advantage compared to some of their friends who go to large universities and may never have had an internship or don’t even have a résumé when they get out.

“These students here feel they made a choice that was different. Maybe it was painful or different going through it, but the benefits are at the end. You get thank-you’s from the parents. As the world becomes more complex, and parents really want to understand the value of sending their child off to college, again, it comes back to, ‘show me what you can do.’ We don’t guarantee anything. But we believe what we teach and how we require the students to do internships in the industry prepares them for employment. What parent wouldn’t want that?”

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