Another MBA Curriculum Revision (sigh)

February 7, 2012 by Wally Bock

John Byrne, writing in Fortune, tells us that “Northwestern Kellogg to shrink two-year MBA program.” What that really means is that Kellogg is to shrink the size of classes in its two-year MBA program and “double or triple the enrollment” in the one-year program for students who have an undergraduate degree in business.

Not only that [cue the trumpets, release the pigeons and the balloons] Kellogg has created four “impact areas” that will overlay the actual curriculum. Forgive me for remaining underwhelmed.

Here’s what I want to know. How will graduates of Kellogg be better prepared for today’s business world, thanks to this “alternative model of general business education?” My guess is, not much, which is the usual result of changes in graduate business school organization and curriculum. Those changes can be poured into two buckets.

There are the “we must have a course in that” changes. They are driven by big stories in the business news. After Enron, we rushed to create ethics courses. After the “Sorta Crash of 2008” schools added a course or two on the future of finance and the company as good global citizen.

Then there are the changes like Kellogg’s. These usually follow some sort of comprehensive review and strategy analysis. In Kellogg’s case they involved the faculty and outside consultants from Booz, BCG, and Deloitte. Despite the re-organization, re-thinking and re-whatever, a couple of things remain unchanged in most of these “sweeping changes.”

Faculty members are still specialists who, like all humans, care about what it all means to them. Here’s a quote from Byrne’s article.

“Blount presented the results of the review at a faculty meeting in January. The biggest question was, ‘What does this mean for me and how does it affect my research?'”

Note that the question is not about the quality of the teaching or the quality of the preparation for the students. That’s not helped by the way schools teach, either.

Most classes are chalk talks about the subjects you can master in your head. But the most important things for MBA students should be “doing” skills that are incredibly difficult to teach in the classroom.

I applaud Kellogg (and other schools) for thinking about changes to make things better. But what we need are fundamental changes that prepare students more effectively. Unless the changes result in real differences when graduates go out into the business world, all these changes are simply trying to put a new coat of polish on an old pair of sneakers.

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

Posted in Engagement, Leadership Development

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