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.”

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