A TASK FORCE REVEALS SOME SURPRISING WEAKNESSES THAT NEEDED ATTENTION
A task force was pulled together in 2007 to survey recruiters, alumni and students. “There were some mildly surprising results,” says Doug Bowman, a marketing professor and senior associate dean of external relations who led the task force. “The need for more rigor in the curriculum jumped out from both students and recruiters. One sound bite from students was, ‘During my summer internship, the company presented me with a list of eight to ten projects and I didn’t feel comfortable doing all of them. So I was self-selecting out of the more rigorous ones.’”
From corporate recruiters, the school gained another telling insight. “It was the idea of making sure MBAs could hit the ground running,” says Bowman. “They essentially told us, ‘We are paying these folks a lot of money. A few years ago, we could have a honeymoon period to allow them to get up to speed. We could even do some retraining. But no more.’”
And then there was the issue of culture. Over the years, faculty had noticed that students were becoming less engaged and less interested in the academics, instead viewing the MBA experience as a two-year job search. Similar issues have cropped up at other schools. Stanford, before more recent curriculum changes, had surveyed its students only to find that they believed their undergraduate education to be more intellectually demanding than their MBA schooling.
‘WE PULLED THE BAND AID OFF QUICKLY AND IT WAS PAINFUL’
Benveniste wanted to restore academics as the key focus of the school and to change the curriculum in ways that would make Goizueta students more attractive to companies. The first move was to appoint a strong academic to run the MBA program. It was in 2007 that the dean flew to Brazil where half the Class of 2008 was on an international excursion to let them know that changes were coming.
“We pulled the band aid off quickly and it was painful,” says Benveniste. “First of all, the sudden and intense focus on academics was a shock. We told students we want you to have fun, but alcohol is not the reason you are here. We raised all our expectations. We began expecting people to be prepared for class, to participate in class, to take their academics seriously. The Class of 2008 was right in the middle of having one experience and then went to having a totally different experience under a completely different set of rules.”
In the classrooms, the faculty upped the rate of cold calls, paid more attention to a grading curve that gave penalty grades to 10% of the students, and piled on more individual work rather than team assignments.
MORE COLD CALLS, INDIVIDUAL WORK, MORE ANALYTICAL PROBLEM SOLVING, AND ENFORCEMENT OF A GRADING CURVE
“We weren’t going to let people hang in the back of the room anymore and not be deeply engaged,” says Rob Kazanjian, a management professor and vice dean of programs. “And we reduced the group assignments so you would no longer get the most experienced people sitting at a computer and doing the analysis while everyone else looked over his shoulder. We just said all five people have to do the work independently.”
The school significantly increased the rigor of each class by asking professors to include a substantial data analysis project into every core course. “We made it a beefy part of the curriculum and the students’ grades,” says Bowman. The emphasis on heavier analytics had another benefit: it meant that professors in electives were able to spend less time teaching basics that should have been learned in the core.
Some of the boldest changes, however, came in a new curriculum that was rolled out in 2008. Instead of starting off the MBA program closer to Labor Day, the school began its program in the first week of August—a full month earlier—and then ran its incoming students until mid-December. “What used to be a semester now became a semester and a half worth of effort,” explains Bowman. “We put the entire core curriculum into that first semester, freeing up the second semester for five electives before the summer internship. Instead of going on a summer internship in finance with the one elective, now you are on there with five. We really want to make sure they get that depth and knowledge.”