The Future Of B-School: An Interview With Florida Dean John Kraft

Dr. John Kraft

Dr. John Kraft

Remember the good ol’ days of MBA education? Back then, you couldn’t stream classes or chat with classmates online. Distance learning involved receiving DVDs and assignments by mail. Schools differentiated themselves by quality of faculty and proximity to employers. And professors gave the same lectures in the same format. You networked at receptions, not over Linkedin. When it came to projects, you presented with a flip chart, not a PowerPoint stack.

Boy, have times changed!

Now, class times are used for discussions, not homilies. Laptops and iPads have replaced paper-and-pencil. You don’t have to re-locate and sacrifice two years to earn your degree. You can specialize in one area instead of rifling through the whole MBA curriculum. You can even form online cohorts that stretch from Boston to Bakersfield. We take these changes for granted, no doubt. Fifteen years ago, most of these choices weren’t readily available. Now, we can only imagine what the next fifteen years could bring.

According to John Kraft, the dean of the Warrington College of Business at the University of Florida, technology will re-shape business schools in the coming years. And the classroom is just one part of this transformation.  Kraft believes that technology will also change how business programs recruit and evaluate their performance. Even more, it will closely connect graduates with their alma maters, enabling schools to draw alumni back as their careers progress.

These days, administrators like Kraft are wrestling with issues that could make-or-break their programs. Is the two-year MBA dead? Is the current B-school financial model sustainable? How can we raise enrollments? Looking for some potential answers? Check out Kraft’s answers to these big questions – and many others – in this Poets&Quants’ exclusive interview. 

What impact will technology ultimately have on business schools and how that will look in five years? 

When most people think of technology, they are thinking of things that are going to change the classroom environment. But I think technology is going to have a far greater impact than just that. If you look at technology, it’s going to change the way school manage programs…We already have things out there like Salesforce and other software packages that help us recruit students. I think social media is going to play a big role on how we recruit students. And then there’s going to be the technology in the classroom that faculty use to disseminate information to people.

There’s also going to ways that students communicate with each other in class in a virtual process and there’s also going to be new technology that’ll assist faculty so that you won’t be grading the students in a live section, but you’ll be somehow be grading students on the day of the exam or remotely…Students can do that right now, but there are always security issues involved and there are companies that are engaged with trying to develop either software or procedures using technology to help students individually take their exams and I think that’s just going to get way better in five years.

Also, I think universities and business schools will use technology to better measure their performance against competitors and peers – There are several companies out there that collect all kinds of data to compare your faculty citations, which peers cite your faculty and what articles your faculty is publishing and how that compares to what articles your peers are publishing.

So technology is going to have a huge impact. In five years, I think it is guaranteed to have a dramatic impact on what we have right now. Most schools are looking at how technology is being used in the classroom and it’s going to be way bigger than that.

For example, with social media, right now technology users have various mechanisms on browsers and keyword searches to direct students towards websites…But I think the bigger thing is that colleges are going to figure out how they can leverage their own people who have graduated – to make them aware of all the different opportunities that are available to come back and continue learning – because your best source for recruiting people are people who’ve already graduated. So let’s say you’re at the University of Florida with 60,000 students. Each year, you graduate a significant proportion of that. What we need to do, through social media, is how do you get to everyone who graduated regardless of whether they were a business major or not and you have this over some twenty year horizon for specialized masters, weekend MBAs, other programs you’re doing. It’s all about this networking, where they’re surrounded by a group people that has something in common, in this case they all graduated from the University of Florida. What you’re doing is trying to individually approach these people in a way that’s different than sending them emails, because these days they’re at the stage where they barely look at emails.

Do you see the full-time MBA degree becoming more or less popular in the coming years (and why)?

I think you already see it right now, with the number of GMAT test-takers has been declining…The pool of people applying to traditional MBA programs has been gradually shrinking. Down the road, that’s going to continue and it will for a number of reasons.

Number one, the number of people with significant work experience who actually quit their jobs (or have employers who want them to quit their jobs) to go back and pursue an MBA degree is going to continue to diminish because companies would prefer they not quit their job. It’s also going to diminish because a lot of the weekend MBAs have developed all kinds of formats and alternative means for delivery in ways that replicate the traditional MBA program experience. They all have group work and networking opportunities. The traditional program will be replaced, in most people’s minds, by the weekend opportunity. And then another thing that will drive down the traditional MBA program is the high quality business programs all around the world that would attract students that would normally come to the U.S. And they don’t have to come to the traditional MBA format. They can do a weekend or executive MBA or flexible MBA. So that’s basically going to reduce the demand.

Another thing that’s going to reduce the demand involves the people who have gone through a specialized masters program. A couple years down the road, when they think they want an MBA, they may not be willing to go back full-time because they already had a full-time experience in the specialized masters. So they’ll take one of the weekend MBA options.

I think the trend will continue, even though the population of people out there will remain roughly the same. I think more-and-more people will select other options, particularly the younger population.

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