How to Keep MBA Programs Off Life Support

How to Keep MBA Programs Off Life Support main image

Traditional, full-time MBA programs are an endangered species. Forward-thinking deans and other education experts are firing the warning signals. An associate dean at ESMT Berlin even went so far as to recently say that mid-tier programs will die off if business schools don’t find a way to add value.

But this should not be news to anyone. The signs have been all around us for some time now. Back in 2005, in Harvard Business Review, Warren Bennis and James O’Toole famously suggested business schools were “on the wrong track.” 

“Today, however, MBA programs face intense criticism for failing to impart useful skills, failing to prepare leaders, failing to instill norms of ethical behavior—and even failing to lead graduates to good corporate jobs,” they wrote back then.

Much of this criticism still applies at some schools. Educators are struggling to figure out how to make their degrees more practical and in tune with the rapid changes in the real world. They have to increase return on investment (ROI), especially as tuition continues to rise.  

As a result, changes are afoot. The survival of the traditional MBA depends on it. QS is a big supporter of innovation in education. It’s part of our DNA. At the annual Wharton-QS Stars Reimagine Education Awards & Conference, we recognize efforts to innovate education.  

Discover how business schools can make their MBA degrees more valuable. Warning: some of these suggestions are radical. 

Break out of the box

Part of the problem is schools are limited by institutional norms, such as accreditation requirements. Accrediting bodies often date back to the early 1900s. While they provide a necessary framework to provide a sense of legitimacy, their standards could prevent programs from thinking outside the box.  

The challenge for educators is to work within the system yet provide more cutting-edge, relevant teaching. Some schools are having students try to test business ideas rather than simply write business plans. Others are making more use of adjunct professors, who are still in the world of business. Or they are encouraging faculty to pursue scholarship that is directly related to the needs of today’s companies.

Add flexibility to programs

Many deans argue that it is getting more challenging to convince people in their 30s to halt their careers for a year or two to return to school. In addition, business schools have long struggled with attracting women to MBA programs because the timing is a poor fit; many women are starting families around the time they would be entering graduate business school.

As a result, schools are trying to build in flexibility. Many are offering one-year programs, some are encouraging younger students to apply and there’s been a growth in development of part-time options.

Schools can also consider adding flexibility in their programming. Some are already making electives and specializations more accessible, or they provide more hands-on learning opportunities. Plus, they are giving students more of a chance to become entrepreneurs, while still earning their degree, than ever before.

Maximize the use of advanced technology

Technology is making it easier to provide more convenient training and education. It’s making it possible to interact even when you’re physically far apart. Schools can reach more people and deliver more knowledge at a faster speed. As the technology improves, they will have more possibilities. Undoubtedly, there are future innovations we can’t even imagine.

In the meantime, schools are already using technology to their advantage. Numerous schools, including Indiana University Kelley School of Business (in the form of Kelley Direct Online), have relevant online degree programs that provide convenience to those who cannot pick up and move.

Even in traditional programs, professors use technology to deliver assignments or have students work together on group projects across time zones. They post video lectures and host forum discussions. Undoubtedly, we can expect more of this moving forward. 

Shift your priorities

Across Europe and in some parts of the United States, schools are changing their mission statements to reflect a desire to “do good” for society and not just make money. Examples include Grenoble Ecole de Management and Rotterdam School of Management. This is an indication that the old style of teaching students to please investors and focus solely on the bottom line is no longer viable.

Business schools have to take their own advice and listen to consumers. Millennials, who are entering business school, and the generation after them want to do more than make big bucks. They want to make a difference. If business schools fail to respond, their traditional MBA programs could go extinct.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

Nunzio Quacquarelli

Nunzio is the founder and CEO of QS. Following completion of his own MBA from the Wharton School, he has gone on to become a leader in education management with over 25 years of experience in the industry. He is truly passionate about education and firmly believes in the QS mission to help young people to fulfill their potential through educational achievement, international mobility and career development. 

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