Business School in 2013: Revolution, Sexism, and MOOCs

Business School in 2013: Revolution, Sexism, and MOOCs
B-school heavyweights such as MIT, Wharton, and Harvard are exploring the phenomenon of massive open online courses (Photograph by Getty Images)
Photograph by Getty Images

MBA students are used to reflection. B-schools routinely ask aspiring candidates to look deep inside, determine what kind of career and life they want, make a plan for attaining these goals, and then share that vision in their application. It’s a process that may not be as comfortable for business schools themselves, yet 2013 has been a year of intense introspection as many schools have been reevaluating everything from the value of an MBA degree to how management education is delivered, as well as sexism in the classroom. Here are some of the past year’s major stories and trends worth a bit more reflection:

“You say you want a revolution”
In Disrupt or Be Disrupted: A Blueprint for Change in Management Education, the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the GMAT exam, calls for nothing short of a revolution in management education. The series of essays from leaders in the field argue that business schools must rethink every aspect of their institutions, including how they brand and define themselves. Case in point: One writer suggests that schools perpetuate the myth that with an MBA you’ll get your dream job. Instead, schools should manage expectations and help students make the trade-offs they need to find employment in a tight market.

Entrepreneurs take over B-schools
Startup fever infected schools, as students, tired of fighting for scarcer traditional jobs on Wall Street, decided they really want to be their own boss. Students told schools that the MBA program of yesteryear, which mostly teaches how to be a good cog in the corporate wheel, wasn’t cutting it. Some administrators responded with hands-on entrepreneurship courses, or the Lean LaunchPad approach founded by serial entrepreneur-turned-professor Steve Blank. That program, taught at Columbia University and Stanford University, calls for students to test their business ideas on perspective customers before they even consider writing a business plan—a new way of teaching entrepreneurship, which graced the May cover of Harvard Business Review.

MOOCs and more MOOCs
Business schools had to adapt to another emerging phenomenon, massive open online courses, known as MOOCs. These courses connect thousands of students the world over and appeal to a generation that is most comfortable with technology, social media, and virtual classrooms and workplaces. For most schools this is still uncharted territory as they tinker with the right business model, and the offerings range from a few free classes to online programs that are comparable in cost and curriculum to a traditional degree.

One thing is clear: More business schools are trying to figure out the appropriate online model. In October, Harvard Business School confirmed that it’s developing its first online initiative, although it won’t release details. MIT’s Sloan School of Management will offer its first online course in the spring semester, a free class on data analytics. The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School put much of its first-year MBA coursework online for free, and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business introduced a course on retirement finance and pension policy. Meanwhile, the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business are already in the MOOC business.

Sexism and the class divide
In addition to the curriculum and the way courses are delivered, the MBA culture itself came under fire in 2013. Harvard Business School made headlines for its grand experiment to eliminate sex discrimination in the classroom and the workplace, which had the unintended consequence of putting Section X, a secret society of wealthy Harvard students known for decadent parties and other acts of conspicuous consumption, in the spotlight. In the end, people learned that sexism still exists at the school, and so does classism. That’s true at other B-schools, too. The revelations stirred the debate about the real reason for attending a top business school and how much say school administrators should have in the behaviors of almost-thirtysomething MBA students.

Internships and long hours
In August, Moritz Erhardt, a 21-year-old intern at Bank of America in London, was found dead in his apartment after allegedly working for days with little sleep. According to an autopsy, Erhardt’s death was a result of his epilepsy, and the tragedy raised questions about the long hours some MBA interns put in, especially those who work at investment banks. Business schools and bank recruiters have started to reconsider their expectations of interns, and Bank of America said it was investigating the firm’s working conditions.

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