An Interview With Columbia Business School Dean Glenn Hubbard

Dean Hubbard

And when you say top business schools, how many would you put into that category? Twenty or 25 worldwide?

No. Honestly, I won’t name names because that always makes staff nervous.  But my own son who is graduating from Columbia College and is going to work for McKinsey, if he asked me in a couple of years which business school to go to I would give him only four or five names and say go to anyone of those. They are all great. They are all different. But go to one of them.

Glenn, how would you characterize the state of graduate business education right now?

I think this is an incredibly exciting time in the business school world. There are a handful of schools at the top that have high price points and a global reach. And there are some lower price point local schools and they are fine. In the middle there are a lot of schools whose costs look exactly like the handful at the top. But they are not delivering.

I think the next 20 years are going to be a sea change in our world. I know universities change glacially but not this time because the opportunity cost of getting an MBA is high. It has been traditionally because you have to give up work plus you have to pay the tuition. And we know now that the advent of online technology is going to be very disruptive. I think it is going to be differently disruptive for a school like Columbia than that group of schools I mentioned.

How so?

For us, it will change how we teach in the core that we have coming out this fall. If you look at the tools classes, like stats, microeconomics, or financial accounting, some pieces of those courses will be done online for two reasons. One is to make sure everybody has the same preparation. All our students are smart but they are different by background. And the other is if you take a class on statistics, by the time you sit with the stat professor you are actually talking about a real business problem, not estimating beta in a regression. I can learn that in my bathrobe at home. For top schools, online is going to be very disruptive, not because we are going to offer online degrees but because the way we currently teach will change.

In the new MBA curriculum you are launching this fall will you use online to reduce the number of times a class will meet or is it to raise the level of discussion in the class?

It changes the discussion in the class. We are not trying to offload class time online but are rather using online as a complement. In exec ed, we are also experimenting with online to deliver some classes. I think we’re probably the first top school to actually make money doing this. We have been offering classes like Personal Leadership online. You would think that is the quintessential soft course you can’t do without sitting in a class. Actually, people are paying us for it so it suggests you can.

One of the things that faculty is just figuring out about online is that it isn’t an either or. It’s a complement, and frankly it doesn’t scale the way some people think. A lot of people think about online as a way to have a huge market by just putting a guy in front of a camera. The most successful online experiences aren’t like that at all because of the skills required to get it right. If people are looking at online like there is gold in those hills, that part I’m not so sure about. For us, the reason to do it is not because there is gold. It costs us money. It’s because it can make our other teaching more effective.

So how will it affect what goes on in the classroom in a tools’ course?

In the redesign of the core, the faculty knew this was coming. So they need richer applications, more cases and more hands-on stuff because the class sessions devoted to estimating beta and other things aren’t going to be there. So it is requiring substantial faculty investment. And we have had practitioners involved in that exercise, too, recommending exercises and the kinds of problems that can be done. I think it’s going to be a big deal.

Do you have a rough idea of how many classes in the core will be online?

It varies because what the micro-economists are doing are not so much putting sessions online but rather topics. A normal class time for us is 90 minutes. It may not be 90 minutes online. It might be 30 minutes or 120 minutes with an assessment. It doesn’t translate into sessions. But each of those classes would have multiple topics accessed some before the term and some during the class.

So is the primary goal to get people who don’t know the basics up to speed with those who do or to teach the basics across the entire class?

It’s both. Take finance where I still teach. People come in with very different preparation. You have some people who have been bankers for several years and then you have a professional football player with a high IQ who may need a little help. So it does give you a chance to bring everybody up to speed, and it also helps you teach some elements of things that are routine, that you don’t need to take class time for.

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