Two ways Business Schools are Increasing the Relevance of an MBA

by Patricia

The mission of most, if not all, business schools is twofold: to educate leaders who can add value to society and organizations, and to advance the understanding and practice of business management through research. How practical are the skills that they provide, and how useful are they in the real-word? Do MBA graduates actually bring value to businesses?
“No,” businesses practitioners say (and have said for the last ten years, as highlighted here ). While it is true that MBA programs nurture leadership abilities and impart useful analytical skills, critics conclude that they do not teach students how to make decisions that can impact real- businesses, because they do not adequately test their student’s knowledge and experience in the real world. This is compounded by the fact that business schools have historically emphasized research at the expense of real practical experience, to the detriment of their students and the greater business ecosystem. In fact, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business(AACSB), a non-profit that accredits accounting and business schools, released a report this year urging M.B.A programs to include more practical components in their curricula to meet the current needs of businesses.

In response to the criticisms they have received over the last decade, business schools have began to change their offerings and the structure of their curriculum to include even more relevant, real-world experiences, such as those listed below.

Compulsory experiential training: Experiential programs give MBA students the opportunity to apply classroom knowledge and experiences to real-world business problems. At most business schools, students can pick and choose experiential programs- they aren’t core components of the business curriculum; however, there has been a shift to making these programs more compulsory.

At the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, for example, before 2014, experiential classes and programs, though available, were usually optional. In 2015, all first year students were required to take a mandatory experiential class during the final quarter of their first year that allowed them to work in teams to find solutions to challenges sponsored by real-world businesses.

Business practitioners in the classroom: Traditionally, MBA courses have been taught by academics, tenured or tenure-track professors who have typically emphasized the theoretical aspect of business management at the expense of the practical, applicable aspect. In order to increase the relevance of courses, particularly those in entrepreneurship and innovation, business schools have brought more business practitioners into the classroom.

For example, as mentioned in the Chicago Tribune, in 2012, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management increased its experiential class offerings and brought on clinical and adjunct professors, many of who are business practitioners themselves, to teach the classes. Furthermore, during the 2014-2015 academic year, Stanford’s Graduate School of Business added 17 new lecturers to its roster, and more than 70% of the lecturers were business practitioners, such as Steve Balmer the former CEO of Microsoft, and Raymond Nasr, the former director of executive communication at Google.