While schools may be handicapping themselves with short-term thinking on foreign students, and damaging their student satisfaction rankings, there’s nevertheless been a positive trend over the past few decades toward putting resources into the student experience, says Ainslie. “We were essentially a set of research institutions . . . organized around faculty (and) using MBA programs to pay the bills,” he says.
Over the past 10 years, business schools have moved into a middle ground between a focus on research and a focus on students. “You balance the two missions of great teaching, and great research,” Ainslie says.
SINGLE BIGGEST CHALLENGE AS DEAN
Ainslie had been at UCLA since 2000, and in his business school experience, he’s seen schools responding to drastically changing economic and industry pictures. “Everybody was really hyped up on quants and analytics in the late ’90s,” he says. “The dot-com bubble went bust – all the sudden people were hungering for classes on branding, soft skills.”
His single biggest challenge as dean? “Raising the school profile is the biggest overall challenge,” he says. “It’s raising the profile of the MBA, raising awareness among recruiters and finding solutions to our relative isolation in Rochester.”
Ainslie hopes to play up the school’s differentiation. “Simon is a heavily economics oriented business school and much of it comes from the early foundation of the school,” he says. “I am the first dean who is not a pure economist. Rochester really believes in economics. It is almost stronger than Chicago. Jerry Zimmerman is in our accounting group and his view is influenced by economics. Bill Schwert is one of our finance guys who also was influenced on the economic implications of finance.
“Our heavy quantitative approach is a differentiator and it does lead to getting a slightly different kind of student,” adds Ainslie. “So our students tend to go to the world of finance. Since the banking crisis that has dropped off quite markedly, but what has been growing at the same time is a very quant approach to marketing. We are well set to take advantage of that move. There are so many companies looking for people with analytical skills for marketing, including Amazon and Google.”
ANALYTICS ARE BACK IN STYLE
Since 2010, analytics have been back in vogue, which is helpful to U.S. business, and schools are offering courses in computer language programming, he says. “There’s no way they could’ve done that 10 years ago. Now it’s the hottest ticket out there.
“We’re teaching classes on econometrics and statistics to MBA students, which believe me was a very hard sell 10 years ago.”
Ainslie also sees a positive evolution in the increasing use of practitioners as teachers. “The more research-oriented schools have struggled to embrace this,” Ainslie says. “It doesn’t always go down well with the tenure track faculty.” Ideally, core subjects such as economics, finance, marketing, and HR should be taught by “conventional, research-oriented faculty,” while in the second year, students can take classes taught by experienced businesspeople and entrepreneurs, he says.
Ainslie sees limited value in online business education. “You learn from your classmates, and you learn from your professor, and in MOOCs you really don’t have either,” Ainslie says.
But for some deans, the possibility of delivering education via the web can lead to “dollar signs rolling around in their eyeballs,” he says. Deans may tell themselves, “I don’t have to offer 300 MBAs a year, I can offer 3,000,” Ainslie says.
“If a club becomes too big, the value of being in the club suddenly reduces,” he points out. “If you let too many people into your school (through online programming), it’s going to drop the quality.
KEEP THE CLUB EXCLUSIVE, OR THE GOLDEN GOOSE GETS IT
“If we do this, then the quality of MBAs is going to massively drop. We will kill our own industry. It will kill our own value proposition.”
However, Harvard Business School has set a useful example by creating its pre-MBA online “HBX” course, that can help MBA applicants prepare for business school before they enter it, and help position themselves for admission to HBS, Ainslie says. “That’s going to get copied,” he predicts.
Ainslie views business school hype of “global education” with some skepticism. “We have, if you will, turned too far toward global, and it really is paying lip service,” he says, noting that many top programs include an international trip in their programming. “I wonder what the pedagogical value of that trip really is, especially considering how many of our students are international – students can learn from each other.”
The overseas teaching moments are expensive and time consuming, and “it’s difficult to see directly how they benefit (students),” Ainslie says.
INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE OR TOURISM?
At Anderson, he had cut down the size of the school’s exchange program. “I kept noticing where the popular schools were that people went to. They were in London, Barcelona, Capetown. Is this tourism, or is this education?
“People come to the United States because the United States offers an extraordinary education experience. Then we send them to other countries – why?”
Business school donors like to support the international experience, however, Ainslie says. “It gets a lot of excitement. It’s going to keep being there as a sort of part of, if you will, the window dressing.
“I think the added value is not that strong.”