Top US Deans Discuss the MBA and Management Education's Future | TopMBA.com

Top US Deans Discuss the MBA and Management Education's Future

By Tim Dhoul

Updated July 3, 2019 Updated July 3, 2019

What happens when you get the deans of four top US business schools in the same room for a discussion about the future of both the MBA degree and management education as a whole?

Columbia Business School found out at a recent panel event, entitled ‘What’s Next in Management Education?’ Arranged as part of CBS’s centennial celebrations, the school’s dean, Glenn Hubbard was joined by his peers at Wharton, Stanford GSB and Harvard Business School in assessing the value of an MBA today, the merits of teaching entrepreneurship and the role business schools are set to play in the future.

MBA ROI discussed by Columbia Business School panel

What’s really going to happen to the MBA? These business school leaders remain convinced both of the degree’s value and the its return on investment (ROI), but Hubbard stated his belief that “you will see a smaller and smaller number of schools providing the traditional MBA,” while adding that we should expect to see “much more education outside the traditional MBA.”

This might mean more nontraditional courses as well as a continuing expansion in the number of options available in non-degree, preparatory and online formats. Of course, while these forms of business education can offer clear benefits to an individual, measuring their ROI is likely to prove far more difficult than those calculations associated with the MBA. At the Columbia Business School event, HBS dean, Nitin Nohria, referenced case studies in which MBA ROI (for those studying at a top school) was found to be more than 20% after just five or 10 years. (For more on MBA ROI, you can take a look at QS’s separate calculations for those who study in North America and Europe).

Increasing access to education and affordability, however, are still factors those who offer the traditional MBA will want to be mindful of, according to these panelists. This means that top schools’ will continue to invest in - and experiment with - the use of technology and online learning. In this sense, virtual programs don’t have to undermine a school’s on-campus offerings, in the mind of the Wharton School’s dean, Geoffrey Garrett. “We can use technology as a way to provide affordable access to high-quality business education in a way that, to my mind, isn’t zero-sum with what we do on campus.” It’s a question of numbers for Garrett, who points out that there’s no way school campuses can absorb the extent to which the “aspirant global middle class” is expanding.  

Wharton dean points to “the centrality of business schools”

Of course, this begs the question as to why business schools feel the need to reach quite so many people. Fortunately, the role and responsibilities of business and business education was also one of the principal topics of debate at this panel discussion.

In this, the link between business and the world’s social needs proved pivotal. “Many of the biggest social problems of our day are in fact management problems,” reasoned Columbia Business School’s dean in reference to business’ capacity to bring about societal progress and improvement, whether that capacity falls under the realms of healthcare, energy or elsewhere.

However, there’s another point to be made here. A world in which, for example, a corporation as ubiquitous as Apple can now (rightly or wrongly) question the authority of a government signifies the growing influence exerted by the private sector. This, according to Garrett, will only serve to increase the importance of business schools. “The rising public role of the private sector is going to be a defining feature of our world going forward, which I think will increase the centrality of business schools,” said Wharton’s dean.

Implicit in this is the potential business schools have in shaping those who aspire to lead organizations in the future. Yet, with management education’s potential comes its responsibility, according to HBS’s Nohria. “We really do have to make sure that when people think about business leaders, they think about them as people who are determined not just to do well for themselves but to actually do better for society.”

Entrepreneurship and the changing nature of recruitment   

Those who wish to do better for society often consider the path of entrepreneurship. Additionally, and more generally, the growth of new enterprise is commonly seen as a means of kick-starting a country’s economic growth. Perhaps these reasons alone are enough to warrant entrepreneurship’s pride-of-place in the curricula of management education. “I’ve been struck at how important innovation and entrepreneurship are in every country in the world,” noted Wharton’s dean at the Columbia Business School panel discussion.

But, can entrepreneurship be taught? While one panelist was quick to admit that the ability to have a groundbreaking business idea is not something you can pick up in class, Stanford GSB’s Garth Saloner, outlined what you can learn. “The process of entrepreneurship is common to most startups, and you can teach students about that process,” said Saloner, whose term as Stanford GSB’s dean is now drawing to a close.  

Those keen to learn more about the entrepreneurial process often view the MBA and related forms of management education as an opportunity to develop their business ideas and start their own business, having decided that this is ultimately the career path they wish to pursue. It’s a popular consideration, too. The employment outcomes of last year’s graduating class at HBS, for instance, showed that even if MBAs weren’t setting up shop directly after graduating, the interest in young companies and startups was there – the class proportion of those who joined existing startups was 9% in 2015, almost double what it was a year prior. This is seemingly testament to the way in which the recruitment landscape standing before MBA graduates has been shifting, as Hubbard observed during the panel event. “I think we're all evolving toward a world where there are many more [potential] employers and we can't rely simply on big-institution recruiting.”

This article was originally published in June 2016 . It was last updated in July 2019

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Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).

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