Should You Accept That MBA Admissions Offer?


Will STEM Students Replace Traditional MBAs?

Digital is destiny. That’s the Silicon Valley mindset these days. For some, MBA programs almost remind entrepreneurs of VCRs. You considered them a luxury in the 1990s. And your house – especially if you’re a parent – is probably littered with Disney VHS tapes. But their time has passed, you think. Like VCRs, MBAs are a vestige of a simpler, slower world where you could indulge in churning out a five-year plan. Nowadays, the MBA has become like the friendly, harmless dolt from the Mac vs. PC ads: short on memory and stuck in his passive aggressive ways.

That was the point made in a recent New York Times column. The traditional MBA programs are increasingly ceding ground to tech-driven, multidisciplinary programs like Cornell Tech (much as PC was being constantly outmaneuvered by the humble hipster Mac). “Business schools are a legacy industry that is trying to adapt to a digital world,” Douglas M. Stayman, associate dean at Cornell Tech, tells the New York Times. OK, so much for the Mac’s subtlety and humility.

So how did this happen? Well, you can start with perception. The Times opens by noting that, to many, an MBA “suggests a person steeped in finance and corporate strategy rather than in the digital-age arts of speed and constant experimentation — and in skills like A/B testing, rapid prototyping and data-driven decision making, the bread and butter of Silicon Valley.” And Greg Pass, the former chief technology officer of Twitter who now teaches at Cornell Tech, concedes that the MBA is “a challenged brand.”

Cornell Tech offers an enticing alternative to this traditional MBA curriculum. A one-year program that costs $93,000, Cornell Tech connects 39 MBA candidates with 34 computer science graduate students. Here, they work as small teams on joint projects with New York businesses. Their goal is to create software programs for clients. “Our starting assumption here,” Stayman tells the New York Times, “is that a new kind of education is needed for managing in a digital economy, where speed and integration have to occur at a different level than in the industrial economy.” In other words, Cornell Tech immerses students in a startup culture, exposing them to the dynamic world of digital entrepreneurship.

Other programs are starting to follow suit. Garth Saloner, dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, notes that over a quarter of its 150 electives didn’t even exist last year. “We’re responding to the best practices we see in the outside world like A/B testing and working with massive data sets,” he tells The Times. “We’re adapting.”

No, the new guard isn’t quite slamming its shoe on the table, warning the status quo, ‘We’re going to bury you.’ Instead, changing student demographics is driving a more tech-savvy curriculum.  Not surprisingly, Stayman’s program attracts 75 percent undergrad STEM majors. However, the growth of STEM populations also extends to places like Harvard Business School according to Professor David B. Yoffie. He tells The Times that a third or more of HBS’ 900 students have programming experience – and more have STEM backgrounds.

Of course, don’t expect aspiring investment bankers and consultants to be replaced by techies who could pass for advisors to The Big Bang Theory. Pass notes that engineers, for example, tend to solve problems they encounter, not create systems to avoid them in the first place. “…the major business issue, especially for entrepreneurs, is often that problems are not known, need to be discovered or defined in a new way,” Pass points out. “You need a more integrated, broader view of things.”

So yes, there is still a place for the traditional MBA. But if you’re an undergrad aspiring to someday get into Ross, Haas or Tuck, here’s a word of advice: Don’t skimp on the STEM.


Source: CNBC

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