In A Program Overhaul, Wharton Offers MBAs Free Life-Long Learning

“The MBA became a degree in methodology,” says Dean Yash Gupta of Johns Hopkins. “We produced masters of financial engineering, people who didn’t have heart and soul.” Interestingly, Russell Palmer, a former Wharton dean who had been succeeded by Gerrity, has publicly praised the Hopkins program. “This is the future, an incredible curriculum and opportunity,” Palmer is quoted saying. “The world needs people with broad apertures through which they can apply a business knowledge base. The Carey Business School is ahead of the pack.”


In truth, most so-called curriculum overhauls turn out to be cosmetic marketing exercises intended to show that a school is adapting to the changing needs and demands of business. In any case, all program changes are dependent on the willingness of faculty to embrace change in and outside their classrooms.

At the heart of the changes at Wharton is what the school is calling “pathways for fulfillment”—essentially required courses in six different “content areas” that are broader than the traditional disciplines taught at most business schools. This is similar to changes at Johns Hopkins. The half dozen areas of study are Finance and the Global Economy, Ethical and Legal Responsibility, Managing the Global Enterprise, Understanding and Serving Customers. Corporate Reporting and Control, as well as Management of Operations, Innovation and Decisions under Uncertainty.

Wharton said students would be able to customize learning by selecting a course pathway through these content areas based on their educational and career experiences. Wharton, of course, has long allowed waivers of core courses based on education and work experience. Exactly how this differs from that policy is unclear.


The school also said it plans to strengthen the teaching of analytics. “Course content in microeconomics and statistics will be increased significantly,” the school said. “This will assure that students have the tools needed to understand risk, markets, and the role of government when markets fail.” The school plans to adopt what it says is “an integrated focus on ethical and legal responsibility in business. This will allow Wharton to provide deeper and more challenging frameworks that will guide students’ decisions upon returning to the work force.”

In common with most other schools, Wharton said it will put increased focus on oral and written communication. “By providing additional required professional training in communications, Wharton is responding to stakeholder feedback that these skills are essential components to successful business leadership,” the school said.

Wharton also said it will create “new methods of leadership development emphasizing self-analysis. Wharton will provide multiple new leadership development opportunities through learning simulation courses, a two-year coaching experience, and tools to offer self-analysis and self-reflection. This focus will encourage development of the personal skills that are crucial to exemplary leadership.”

“Wharton’s new curriculum design offers our students a framework for success in a rapidly changing world,” added Dean Robertson in a statement. “The world’s 200 countries are more interconnected each year, technology and innovation are ever more paramount, and the role of government has come to the forefront here and overseas. Business schools must equip the next generation of leaders with the knowledge, skills and perspective they need to meet the global economic, environmental, humanitarian and policy challenges of the future. The better able we are to achieve these goals, the more we can ensure that business schools are a force for good in the world.”


Perhaps the single biggest surprise in the revamp is the promise to provide Wharton grads with up to a week of tuition-free executive education every seven years throughout their careers. While some business schools, such as the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland offer free elective coursework to alums, Wharton is the first major player in business education to do so. By giving alums the chance to come back for free education, Wharton may be hoping that this feature of the program is both a benefit but also a marketing opportunity to coax alums back for additional paid training. “Changing careers and a changing world bring new problems and the need for new knowledge,” said professor Shell, who served as chair of the MBA Review Committee that created the new design. “Our world-class executive education capabilities place Wharton in the unique position of being able to offer every one of our new graduates a tuition-free experience providing specialized up-to-date executive education once every seven years through their working lives. With this unique commitment to lifelong learning, Wharton seeks to create a vibrant community of graduates who will return regularly to engage with faculty and fellow alumni.”

The other faculty members on the review committee were Noah Gans, who teaches operations and information management; Ed George, a statistics professor; John Wesley Hutchinson, a marketing professor who is also director of Wharton’s Behavioral Laboratory; Chris Ittner, an accounting professor; Olivia Mitchell, who teaches insurance and risk management; Nicolaj Siggelkow, chairman of Wharton’s management department, and Rob Stambaugh, a professor of finance and economics.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.