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How Partnerships Can Save Mid-Tier MBA Programs

How Partnerships Can Save Mid-Tier MBA Programs main image

Many business school experts have been espousing their belief that mid-tier MBA programs will be wiped out as the world questions the value of them. After all, traditional MBA programs have been on the endangered species list for some time now. While the Harvards and MITs of the world should be able to survive, smaller, lesser-known programs are expected to die.

To save themselves, many of these mid-tier MBA programs are seeking to become more practical and relevant to a new generation of students entering this rapidly changing job market. Making programs more flexible, so people don’t have to up and move or give up an annual salary for two years, is one example. Another is taking advantage of digital platforms for educating people to give access to a wider range of students. Many are trying to offer specializations that address the changing technology and landscape of the corporate world.

MBA can stay alive

Partnerships are one effective way to breathe life into the ailing degree. Baruch College Zicklin School of Business is a prime example of a program harnessing the power of partnerships to increase value. Immersive dual-degree programs with schools in China, Israel, and Italy resonate with students who need a global mindset and experiences abroad. In addition, Zicklin collaborates with corporate partners to give students a real-world consulting project.

Proving the worth of a professor philosophizing about theories or even the news of the day is not so easy. Certainly, intellectual discussion is important, but these hands-on projects and global immersions are valuable in a direct and practical way. People – and their parents if they’re financing the education – can easily connect the dots between these experiences and getting hired for a job. These experiences, after all, find their way onto a resume.

Why partnerships? Why not simply create these kinds of programs on your own? Well, that’s happening, too. But partnerships offer a bevy of benefits:

Finding strength

They allow business schools to leverage each other’s strengths. If you have a general management MBA and another school has a specialty in, say, healthcare, then you can combine your curriculum and provide students with the best of both worlds. Determining your strengths, in fact, is a great place to start when considering collaborations.  

Middle ground

When business schools come up with an idea for a new program, they usually have to start from scratch. If you partner with a school that already has the foundation for the sort of program you have in mind, you don’t have to build it up from nothing. You can work together to maximize whatever resources and plans you each have at your fingertips.

This allows schools to work at a faster pace, which is difficult for educators to do usually. In fact, being unable to respond quickly to industry needs is a common criticism of institutions of higher learning.

Affordability

Going it alone means investing in all the necessary resources and talent without any help. By partnering with other schools, you can share the burden of costs just as you will share the success. Perhaps, this can even make the programs cheaper. The fact is that students are hungry for lower costs in education. So, any such efforts could be rewarded with interest on the part of applicants.

Double the credentials

In the case of dual-degree programs, business schools will be giving their graduates a pair of credentials. But even with other kinds of partnerships, students gain exposure to two different communities and the professors and students in those worlds. As a result, they gain immeasurably. Undoubtedly, it broadens their horizons and makes their network and experiences that much richer.

How to choose a partner

Now, schools should not just partner with anyone. As Fenwick Huss, the Willem Kooyker dean of the Zicklin school has said, business schools should take their own advice and approach this as they would a merger or a corporate partnership. Weigh the pros and cons, figure out the costs involved and determine if this fits with the needs of the community or a group that is now underserved.

Many schools, for example, recognize that women find MBA programs to be difficult because of the timing; they would enter school around the same time many of them are starting families. So, more business schools are offering other kinds of degrees that you can earn as you leave the undergraduate program or after working a year or two. While it’s true that does not do much to save the traditional MBA, it does keep the schools relevant.

Make a match

Smart educators also opt to partner with those who are a good fit for their programs. The cultures on the two campuses should be complimentary. Philosophies about business education should be similar. All this due diligence is a necessity up front or the partnership will be doomed for failure.

Still, when properly planned, partnerships can be the key to saving the life of mid-tier MBA programs. Even if they replace their traditional program with something a little different, the business school can buoy its graduate offerings and remain open for business. What’s most important is to remain relevant and responsive to the needs of employers. That is the only way to keep your degree and school off life support. 

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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