5 Ways MBA Programs are Adapting to the Ever-Changing Business World

Sep 10, 2014 -
B-schools that want to stay relevant need to adapt to a quickly evolving field. If they don’t stay on top of those changes, they’ll leave alumni with outdated toolkits, huge debts and little to show for their time and tuition dollars. What does this mean for you, the prospective student? It matters because you’ll want to make sure the B-school you choose to attend is up-to-date and innovative -- adapting for the new economy -- so you’re as equipped for your future in business as possible. And knowing what some schools are doing to keep up will help you make an informed choice about which university is best for you. Here are five ways b-schools are staying relevant in a quickly-evolving corporate landscape. (Click here to tweet this list.)

1. Taking advantage of alumni

When officials at Miami University’s Farmer School of Business in Oxford, Ohio, engage corporate leaders, recruiters and other experts, they often find many are Farmer School alumni, says Matthew Myers, dean of the school and Mitchell P. Rales chair in business leadership. And those alumni, who work in the field, have their fingers on the pulse of what employers and recruiters seek and where opportunities loom for recent graduates. “[We] ensure we’re hearing directly from the marketplace about what kind of workforce they’re looking for,” Myers says.

2. Making “experiential learning” a hallmark

At Miami’s Farmer School, the administration and faculty also help keep their programs current through what the dean calls “experiential learning.” Several classes devoted to that approach pair students with companies, who hire them to address real-world problems. The school’s Highwire Brand Studio, for example, gathers teams of students from a variety of majors -- e.g., marketing and design -- for a disciplinary-diverse challenge. Teams try to develop “the best overall recommendation for the client’s branding challenge and our Wall Street Week program, which reveals the inner workings of New York City’s financial district to our students,” Myers says.

3. Embracing technology

Some 300 miles southwest of the Farmer School, at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management in Nashville, faculty and staff focus on the ways technology “is quickly becoming more of an enhancement than a replacement for the traditional classroom,” says Tami Fassinger, the school’s chief recruiting officer. “When lectures can be delivered online in a flipped classroom, faculty and students have more time for healthy debate and transformational learning to take place,” she says. (Like Myers, Fassinger cites “experiential learning courses.”)

4. Designing curricula from the ground up

When Fassinger discusses how Owen School faculty consulted with practitioners in the field to help clarify the learning outcomes of its programs, she points to the school’s master of accountancy programs (in the traditional audit, as well as the “growing new field of valuation”), its healthcare MBA and its master’s of management in healthcare. “These efforts have also led to high satisfaction among students and their eventual employers,” she says.

5. Studying through a crystal ball

At California College of the Arts, home to a two-year MBA in Design Strategy, students can study in an MBA program -- also two years -- in Strategic Foresight. That may sound like meteorology or astrology for executives-in-training, but the school, with campuses in San Francisco and Oakland, insists, “The world is changing faster than ever, making the art of looking ahead essential for leaders. … [The program] challenges assumptions about alternative futures and enables students to adapt in practical, yet idealistic ways.” Menachem Wecker is co-author of the recent book, “Consider No Evil: Two Faith Traditions and the Problem of Academic Freedom in Religious Higher Education.”