B-School Partners Ask: “What’s in It for Us?”

Alexandra Acker-Lyons (right) with her husband Jonathan Lyons, a Wharton MBA student

Two years ago, Dean Thomas Robertson of The Wharton School created a new deanship for Kembrel Jones: deputy vice dean of student life. Since leaving Emory’s Goizueta Business School, Jones, who holds a PhD in educational leadership from Harvard, has shaped the position at Wharton into his very own. So much that, two years later, he is jokingly known as the “Dean of Happiness.”

But you don’t get a title like “dean of happiness” without earning it. While Jones’s job description mandates that he enrich the lives of Wharton MBA students outside of the classroom, Jones has taken this charge a step further; deliberately doing all that he can to enhance the b-school experience for MBA partners and spouses.

“Partners make an enormous sacrifice with the decision to come to Wharton,” says Jones. “To ignore this sacrifice would be a mistake.”

International partners, according to the deputy vice dean, seem to make the greatest sacrifice of all. The majority of them are unable to work in the U.S., leaving a large amount of free time while their student counterparts are occupied with classes, study groups, and extra-curricular activities. As dean of student life, the major challenge is to help minimize this free time.

“The ultimate goal is for partners to love the school as much as students love the school,” Jones says. “A happy partner means a happy student.”

For incoming students, entering business school is the most exciting time in one’s life. The opportunities are endless–and so are the pressures–as they set out to conquer all that B-school has to offer; from the cutting-edge curricula taught by world-class faculty to the high speed socializing from which peer networks are formed.


For spouses and partners on the other hand, it can be paralyzing. Family and friends are left behind, they find themselves in an unfamiliar place they now have to call home for the next two years, and their careers—not to mention the associated pay—are brought to a screeching halt.

Incoming MBA students are taking these factors into careful consideration and, as such, have come to expect non-traditional amenities on behalf of their partners, spouses, sometimes even children.

“With this generation there’s a lot of interest in quality of life and work-life balance,” says Jones. “If [B-school] administrators are not paying attention to this, they’re probably missing the boat because it’s huge in the decision-making process.”

Take Stanford University’s Escondido Village or Dartmouth College’s Sachem Village. These family-friendly, condominium-style communities allow graduate students to settle into university housing just a short walk from the classroom. Sachem Village has been revitalized in recent years to meet the growing demand of students who come to b-school with family in tow. Today it consists of one-bedroom townhomes for single students, two-bedroom homes for couples, and three-bedroom homes for students with families. For families with children, there is a community playground and a nearby ice skating rink.

Because the percentage of students who are married or have a significant other reaches nearly 40% at some of the top schools, it isn’t enough to simply provide convenient housing in a pleasant community. Jones from The Wharton School says, “The vast majority of our students relocate to Philadelphia for two years which means partners’ entire lives are uprooted with the decision to come here. We do our best to help them find work. If they don’t work, we want to help them find friends because we know the experience can be isolating.”

  • KW

    This is a challenge my wife and I are preparing to face. I will matriculate at Tepper in August, and we are moving to Pittsburgh with two little kids in tow. I’m hoping my wife can find work and transition from her stay-at-home mom role. We also have the challenge of finding inexpensive housing with enough room for us plus space for visiting family.

  • Guiseppe

    I am married with a son and will start my MBA this fall. Finding a top B-school with a family friendly evironment is crucial to me. Factors include housing, support groups, partners’ participation & satisfaction. After some first hand research, Kellogg, Wharton, Ross and Tuck received good reviews from students. Columbia, NYU, Johnson and Fuqua less so. Do you agree?

  • D3

    Darden has a strong partners community and Charlottesville is a great place to live!

  • Thanks EJ. Good luck.

  • EJ Jones

    This was truly a helpful article. I was searching for a way to cope as my wife is contemplating her PhD which will more than likely require us to move from DC. it was even more interesting as I have worked with and known Mrs. Acker-Lyons for years and I actually have found resource that I can reach out to as needed. It also brought up some new ideas for the wife and I to try now as we both finish graduate school.

  • anna marshlov

    Kellogg also has a fantastic partners program. They integrate them so well and their colloboration as a family goes well beyond classrooms. John, I think it deserves a mention here.

  • Congratulations to your entire family. I’m sure it will be a wonderful experience for all of you.

  • Catrina

    Thank you so much for this article. My husband just got accepted to Wharton and I had a lot of questions about Partners at Wharton as well as the kids club, especially since I have a baby. This helped answer a lot of them. It might be more fun for me than I thought!

  • Susan

    Great article! As a partner of a stern NYU student I must say the partners program at NYU is non-existent! Very unfortunate and it has made the stern experience extremely tough.

  • Thanks Bob.

  • This is a fabulous and well-timed article! My wife has always known about my academic aspirations since we started dating, but the changes that come with it would make anyone pause.

  • KC

    JW – Wharton also has a fantastic Kids Club (independent of the Partner’s Club) where partners with children have an incredible support group. There are about 70 families in the club and there are regular activities for moms and children. My wife was involved in the leadership of the club during my 1st year and had a fantastic experience. I have friends in a handful of the top schools and most have a partners club (although Wharton’s seems to be particularly active – and is unique in how active/large their Kid’s Club is).

  • Andrea Carter

    Hi JW. Thanks for your thoughts on the article. While we don’t have a best/worst list (yet), couples we interviewed say it’s best that you get to know the schools beforehand. Ask questions such as “What is it like to be married here?” and “What is the experience like for children?” Also, be sure to talk to current students and partners to gain their insights. Many schools welcome and encourage this.

    The “best” for partners/kids are likely to be the schools that follow the same rule book used by those discussed in the article; they make a deliberate effort to incorporate partners and families into the life of the school. On the other hand, if you’re visiting b-schools and they make no mention of family life … well, I would be on alert if I were you.

  • JW

    Thanks for the article. I am going to attend b-school next year and am married with a young son. Do you have a list of what you consider the best/worst b-schools for partners/kids?