During the 1990s, many business schools did make dramatic changes in their curricula and approaches to teaching in response to fairly widespread corporate dissatisfaction with MBA graduates. But we posit that business schools didn’t change enough to address critical curriculum weaknesses in such areas as communications, relationship management, leadership, and problem solving. Moreover, even where course offerings in nontraditional areas were added, it did not lead to necessary changes in the all-important core course work, or the ways in which students are taught. Indeed, many schools still stress individual competition and academic achievement, even if they talk about giving students more opportunity to work collaboratively on projects that give them practical experience. And most graduate programs still focus on traditional lecture and case discussion over more complex experiential learning. This may be true, in part, because instructors and professors themselves are more comfortable using traditional teaching methods.
Still, we are confident progress can be made, especially if, along with working toward the six curriculum reforms we’ve suggested, business schools are open to partnerships with companies and vice versa. Partnerships can sensitize schools to the skills critically needed in the market today. Johns Hopkins University partners with Booz Allen to offer two advanced-degree programs: the MBA and the Master of Science in Information and Telecommunications Systems. Both programs are conducted at Booz Allen offices and stress shared leadership and teamwork, and the MBA program requires a course in organizational development. Throughout these programs, students learn through team assignments, which try to promote collegiality over competitiveness. With Johns Hopkins getting to know Booz Allen better, the curriculum has evolved to more reliably provide the skills we need. This is an excellent example of a university that recognizes that corporations are also its customers.
By working with employers, business schools can redouble their efforts to meet employer needs. This change in approach will not pay off for the business schools in the short term, because it won’t immediately attract more students. But it will pay big dividends for the schools in the long term as companies continue to hire freshly minted MBAs rather than searching for talent elsewhere in the broader job market.
The alternative is for business schools to degenerate into the sorting service that John Reed talked about back in 1999. No school wants to be known more for the efficiency of its admissions personnel than the effectiveness of its education program. That doesn’t serve the school, the students, or the employers. And it doesn’t have to happen.
Reprint No. 03305
Joyce Doria (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior vice president with Booz Allen Hamilton based in McLean, Va., where she leads the firm’s organization development and change management business. Ms. Doria has 30 years of experience working with clients in both the federal government and the private sector.
Horacio Rozanski (email@example.com) is a vice president in Booz Allen Hamilton’s New York office and the firm’s chief human resources officer. He specializes in developing marketing strategies and customer understanding across a range of industries.
Ed Cohen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the strategic leader of Booz Allen Hamilton’s corporate university, the Center for Performance Excellence, in McLean, Va.