While these changes are dramatic for Harvard Business School, many of them have been implemented elsewhere. As Moon explains, “We’re never going to differentiate ourselves by how we do things. It’s always how well we do things. If we end up doing something today that 10 or 20 years later everybody else is doing, we will have succeeded. We want to raise the tide for everybody. It’s not us competing against the world. It’s us setting the standard for how good business education can be.”
‘WE’RE ADDING TO THE INTENSITY OF OUR ACADEMIC CURRICULUM’
Not content to move these changes out to only the first-year class, Nohria is also reshuffling the elective curriculum for second-year students as well. The school’s two-semester format will morph into four quarters, giving faculty the ability to create shorter courses, more simulations, and field projects. Moon says the number of field courses Harvard offers in the new elective curriculum will double to 20 from 10. Case method courses, meantime, will decline by half a dozen to just over 70.
Harvard expects to triple the number of modular course offerings in the second year to 13% of the elective curriculum from 4%. Some of these will be shorter, 1.5-credit, seven-week versions of formerly full-term courses, such as Consumer Marketing, Competing With Social Networks, and Legal Aspects of Entrepreneurship. Others will be compressed three-credit courses with two sessions per day instead of one such as Negotiations and Growing, Financing and Managing Family and Closely Held Firms. And then there are short courses paired with field courses, with the first half taught via case method and the second half a field project. These offerings will include Launching Technology Ventures, Creating High Impact Ventures, and Social Enterprise in the Business Sector.
The changes, believes Nohria, are likely to impact the powerful social experience a student gains in the MBA program. “You could imagine that people working in small teams of six might develop friendships and bonds that would be even deeper than those that they have historically formed in the sections of 90 students each,” he says. “These will be really intense bonding experiences that will add a more intimate social experience to the program.”
Nohria says that he hopes the changes make a Harvard MBA more relevant and valuable. “We’re adding to the intensity of our academic curriculum,” he says. “We hope that it will therefore capture more of our students’ energy.”
‘MBA SALARIES ARE THE MOST IMPOVERISHED METRIC PEOPLE USE TO VALUE BUSINESS EDUCATION’
The dean says he is troubled by the overemphasis some MBA students put on starting salaries instead of the value of the education itself. “If there is one thing that I am most distressed about, it is this ratio between an MBA’s salary at graduation and the salary when a student enters the program,” he says. “If that becomes the metric people use to value business education, then we will be guilty of the same short-sightedness that we don’t want business leaders to have. It’s the most impoverished and short-sighted measurement you can use.”
In the past year, he says, his conversations with other deans have led him to believe that the relentless pursuit of higher paying jobs and social parties among MBAs also has led to diminished student engagement in the academics. “I am horrified at times to hear of absenteeism in the second year and even the first year classes at some schools,” he says. “For some students, Friday classes might as well be optional. They’d rather go on a ski weekend in Utah or do whatever else they think is more important than being in class. We are very fortunate at HBS. We have close to 100% attendance in our first year, and we have attendance of 95% to 96% in the second year. But the general drift in the world is not in that direction.”
Nohria is determined for that not to happen at Harvard Business School. “If you told applicants, ‘Why don’t you come for a two-year party?,’ it may sound like people would still come to business school, but they won’t. In the end, it’s the quality of the educational experience that brings people together. All that other stuff is the icing on the cake, but it’s the cake that people come to eat.”