Elite Deans Defend Value Of MBA Degree

From left to right, Wharton's Geoffrey Garrett, Harvard's Nitin Nohria, Stanford's Garth Saloner & Columbia's Glenn Hubbard

From left to right, Wharton’s Geoffrey Garrett, Harvard’s Nitin Nohria, Stanford’s Garth Saloner & Columbia’s Glenn Hubbard


Asked what their business schools will look like in five to ten years, the deans gave a variety of answers. ”Our graduates will insist upon and we will deliver a more integrated experience so (it will be) less about individual disciplines and much more about solving problems,” believes Glenn Hubbard, dean of Columbia Business School. “I expect our graduates will be doing different things with more of them in the younger company world. Many more graduates will prepare for different careers over their lifetimes, hopefully including the social sector or public service at some point.”

Wharton’s Garrett had a slightly different view. “The difference between our institutions and business education writ large will probably grow over the next decade,” he said. “Why? Because the convenience moves for a lot of people in the world will become more important. There will be less residential. There will be more online, probably non-MBA degrees will continue to grow…I think the biggest change to the world of business education will be non-degree business education because of the amount of continual up-skilling that people require in the contemporary world and the world going forward. So a question for all of us is how much do we want to play there. The just-in-timeness of our world with the immediacy that the internet provides gives us a real opportunity to be big players there.”

Saloner conceded that change in higher education has come slowly. “if you look at higher education writ large, the way we have delivered education hasn’t changed very much in the past 100 years,” he said. “We still have an individual standing in front of a class of 50 to 75 students. Information goes from the front of the class to the back. The biggest revolution we had in higher education is when we moved from the chalkboard to the whiteboard and that is something that some of our colleagues still have not adjusted to—and then really being radical, we moved all the way to PowerPoint. But very much the way we deliver education has remained the same.


“I think this is starting to change and will change very rapidly,” Saloner continued. “Technology is going to be the driver. Schools like ours are going to emphasize experiential education because much of the content that I just described is going to be available in many other formats using technology online or will be delivered at a distance synchronically and that is not going to be the strong suit of any of our schools or any leading business school. We will continue to attract the highest potential individuals who will come for a transformative experience that will mainly be delivered through experiential learning and to take what we have learned through research and teaching and to disseminate that and broadcast that very widely using technology so our influence will grow far beyond the bounds of our home institution.”

Nohria focused his remarks on what shouldn’t change. “We are living through a period of extraordinary change in business education: globalization, technology, the fact that for 100 years we had MBAs largely offered in the standard format of two years and now, as we have all seen, it is going to proliferate in various ways. But continuity about some core things that we value is as important as embracing change. For us at Harvard Business School, a commitment to leadership, a commitment to general management, a commitment to a transformational educational experience that people can get in residency in two years, that is something that I feel we should be as determined to protect, preserve and enrich at the same time as we think about embracing change. This is a world in which we have to simultaneously embrace change and remain very steadfast about the things that have make our institutions important for a long time and will be important in the future.”

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