By Rick Tetzeli

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Once more, dear friends, reports reach this department that business schools are turning more attention to the nitty-gritty of manufacturing. According to a new survey by Fujitsu America, a subsidiary of Japan's computer maker, 83% of the top MBA programs in the U.S. require manufacturing courses, vs. 43% in 1986. B-school students, sensing that jobs are more readily available these days in the Rust Belt than on Wall Street, are signing up gladly. Even Columbia University, a bastion of finance and marketing, will make operations management a compulsory part of its MBA program next year.

Schools offering courses where MBA students get to visit the factory floor include Duke, Harvard, Rochester, and Wake Forest. Among the corporations putting out the welcome mat: Eastman Kodak, General Motors, Northern Telecom, Sara Lee, and Xerox. More companies are signing on. Martin K. Starr, a professor at Columbia's B-school, believes this demonstrates a big change in attitude on the part of corporations. Says he: ''Manufacturers used to see MBAs as twerps interested only in finance, marketing, and a glass office with a view of Wall Street.'' So why are companies changing their minds about supposedly pantywaist MBAs? Says John McKinnon, dean of Wake Forest's B-school and former president of Sara Lee: ''Manufacturers need people who can talk to a division work force one day and the CEO the next.'' Keith Swain, 23, a Wake Forest MBA candidate, is doing field study at Sara Lee's Adams-Millis division, a sockmaker. Swain and two fellow students are trying to cut the cost of attaching pricetags and bar codes to socks headed for retailers like Kmart and Woolworth. Swain says he wants to stay in manufacturing after he graduates next spring. Avers he: ''I enjoy being a part of making the product rather than just distributing it, selling it, or / tracking its cost.''