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MBA Curriculum Changes: Wharton, Yale, and Stanford Lead the Pack

Posted in Test Prep on March 21, 2011 by

If you’re applying to MBA programs or considering a career in management, you’re probably interested in the evolution of the MBA degree.

A recent article in U.S News, “Rethinking the MBA,” explored the changes that MBA programs are undergoing in reaction to current developments in the business world. Several top schools including the Stanford Graduate School of Business, the Yale School of Management, and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania have revised their curriculum in startling ways. They’re not the only ones — according to John Fernandes, president and CEO of AACSB International, which accredits b-schools, about 75% of the nation’s business schools have made curriculum changes.

Here are two of the major changes that have affected MBA programs lately:

1. New approaches to old material. Schools have been redesigning their approach to fundamental business subjects like finance and economics by teaching these subjects in a more interdisciplinary style and from a variety of perspectives. The new strategies are supposed to bridge the gap between management education and the complexities of the real world. The much-lauded “case-method” is also the subject of some re-envisioning. As the U.S. News article reports:

“Rather than consider pre-digested summaries of company situations, students tackle ‘raw cases’ packed with original data. Instead of being presented with an income statement, for example, they must mine the considerably bulkier annual filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission for data. The raw cases ‘push us to understand,’ says second-year Yale student Jason Hill. ‘They purposely put in more material than you could ever look at, but you have to learn where to look.'”

2. An emphasis on “leadership”and other teamwork skills. What exactly does leadership mean? Though it can often be tough to define, top programs often list the following as skills possessed by great leaders: the ability to mentor and coach others, unify diverse groups, inspire and motivate others, create actionable plans, and think independently and challenge the status quo.

What does this mean for you? This re-conceptualization of the MBA degree is exciting. Programs are now focused on creating leaders in a holistic sense — people who possess both hard and soft skills, who understand the value and the limitations of models and theories, who are capable of juggling multiple perspectives, and who are cognizant of real world complexities.

Detractors of the MBA are certain to argue that this focus on intangible skills is merely another reflection of the underlying softness of the degree (“Leadership is best learned by doing, not sitting in a classroom…”). In my opinion, the new emphasis on leadership makes the degree more powerful. If it is indeed some “x” factor — some mix of talent, experience, hard work, and luck — that is responsible for business success, then the MBA degree is now even better designed to produce leaders who possess that factor. The more that MBA programs include something in addition to textbook academic rigor, the more vital they become as both branding and educational experiences for future leaders.

For more on this subject, check out books like  The Future of the MBA and my personal favorite, The MBA Oath: Setting a Higher Standard for Business Leaders by Max Anderson and Peter Escher.