Boyden Executive Search

As enrolment in American MBA programmes declines, the business education sector is adapting with more socially aware and tech-oriented curricula.

Traditionally American business teachings have been based on the premise that profit is paramount. However the deans of many elite business schools in the U.S. say MBA programmes are evolving. William Boulding of Duke’s Fuqua School of Business highlights a growing social consciousness, saying “We need our students to be thoughtful about the role of business in society.” Nitin Nohria of Harvard Business School (HBS) points to a shift in demand, saying that younger alumni and incoming classes want “the place of work to reflect purpose and values.”

The growing presence of “sustainable capitalism” in the education sector is partly a response to new challenges. U.S. business schools still top the lists of the world’s best MBA programmes; however fewer students are enrolling. The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) reports that American MBA programmes received 7% fewer applicants this year than last. High tuition costs are a major factor. Online MBA programmes and schools outside the U.S., which are more affordable and have greatly improved in quality, now pose real competitive threats.

Career prospects are generally still brighter for MBA graduates, particularly in consultancies and investment banks. Silicon Valley tech firms, too, are increasingly favouring candidates with MBAs. As tech startups grow into giants, their need for top management talent grows as well. A 2019 survey of recruiters by GMAC found that 80% of technology companies planned to hire MBAs, roughly equal to consultancies (82%) and financial services firms (77%).

Some business schools are joining the online exodus lest they be trampled by it. Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, for example, has teamed with online course provider edX to offer a full MBA degree online at a much lower price than its on-site equivalent. MIT’s Sloan School of Management is offering more affordable online course bundles called MicroMasters in specific areas of executive education. There are also hybrid options to be found.

Disruption in the business education sector is bringing about what Questrom’s Dean, Susan Fournier, calls “a reckoning of the MBA value proposition.” Clearly something has to give – such as the underlying assumptions of business education. Many students are rejecting the emphasis on shareholder value and expressing a preference for courses related to sustainable capitalism, covering social, environmental and ethical topics. In response schools are adding courses such as Duke’s “Capitalism and Common Purpose in a World of Differences” and HBS’s “Leadership and Corporate Accountability” to their curricula, The Economist notes.

Because companies, which often foot the bill for executive education, are demanding more technical skills, business schools are also incorporating technology into their course offerings. Earlier this year Columbia Business School appointed Costis Maglaras, an engineer by training, as Dean. He has introduced courses on data, analytics and programming. “The proliferation of data and advancement in technology will continue to disrupt business for the foreseeable future. Leaders must be equipped with advanced skills and knowledge to effectively seize new opportunities and thrive in this evolving ecosystem,” Maglaras said.

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