The Newest MBA Courses At Leading Business Schools

As MBA students at the top 20 U.S. programs begin classes this fall, they are enrolling in a broad range of new courses

As MBA students at the top 20 U.S. programs begin classes this fall, they are enrolling in a broad range of new courses

When long-time Yale School of Art instructor Jessica Helfand made the move across campus to the School of Management for 2016-2017, she likened the change to “going from Finland to Guatemala.” The differences were enormous. And she has loved every minute of it.

Helfand will teach a trio of design courses at Yale SOM this year. In the spring she’ll lead The Invention of Desire, based around the concepts outlined in her 2016 book that defends the importance of design in its effect on behavior and emotions; and, with Michael Bierut, a Design Practicum.

This fall and spring, also with Bierut, Helfand will moderate 12 Design Ideas That Changed the World, a survey course that will bring a dozen weekly guests each semester to the New Haven, Connecticut, campus to discuss everything from public spaces to biotech to theater design.


Jessica Helfand

Jessica Helfand

As U.S. MBA students crowd onto campuses this month, they will be taking dozens of new offerings like — and yet unlike — Helfand’s. A survey by Poets&Quants of the top 20 programs found nearly 150 courses, both core and elective, offered for the first time this fall, with concentrations that follow — and in a few cases, buck — current trends.

Of 148 new courses, 29 are “new economy” courses: e-commerce, fintech, disruption, and mobile innovation, among other subjects, while an additional eight are international commerce/emerging markets courses. Nineteen fall under the blanket aegis of marketing, but with wide disparity in the subject matter; another 19 are leadership-oriented, including those that embrace a “personal brand” style of promotion. Also among the top category of new course: impact investing and social responsibility/social change. Sixteen such new courses are being offered by the top schools this fall and spring.

In several cases, new courses resulted out of conversations with those outside academia. Cornell’s Johnson School debuts a new Finance & Ethics course that Professor Maureen O’Hara is teaching this semester based on her new book. The course was motivated by discussions school officials had with the New York Federal Reserve last year about integrating ethics courses with finance so that such coursework can be more effective for students. Often, ethics are taught by organizational behavior faculty outside of the context of finance. This course fills that gap, addressing specific challenges in the banking industry.

Among the most prolific schools with a dozen or more new offerings each are Harvard, Stanford, Chicago, and Northwestern. Even schools with smaller full-time MBA programs such as Yale and Virginia each have at least 12 new courses this year. (Duke’s Fuqua School of Business added no new MBA courses for 2016-2017, while Wharton was only able to provide information on some of the program’s “newest courses.”)


Entrepreneurship and venture capital continue their rise in the estimation of MBAs and those who teach them, with 10 new courses on offer. Included in that list is The Science of Growth and Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, Scaling Technology Ventures at Harvard School of Business, and Launching and Leading Startups at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. The latter case-driven course delves into the issues that often trip up early stage startups, with a bevy of entrepreneurs and domain area experts who will come into class to offer real-world perspectives on key challenges.

Among the other offerings across the top MBA programs are six behavioral economics courses, seven healthcare management courses, 13 finance/accounting courses, and eight public policy/economics courses. One interesting development: Only one new diversity course, Fern Mandelbaum’s Building Diverse and Inclusive Organizations at Stanford Graduate School of Business, is being introduced in 2016-2017.

Helfand’s design courses at Yale SOM are unique among new classes. “We realized there was an opportunity to bring design in as a kind of competency for these students,” Helfand tells Poets&Quants. “In other words, we’re not going to make them designers but at a minimum we can make them better clients. The cultural shorthand is, we’re telling people we’re teaching design as a second language. So if you’re going to Spain and you look at a menu, you don’t need to know how to conjugate all the weird tenses of the verbs, but you need an appreciation of the grammar. So we’re teaching the cultural ramifications of what design is and can be in concert with whatever your interest is.”

Because the class — which Helfand says received the third-most bids of any fall class in the school — will teach a group of 25 to 30 students with a diverse set of concentrations and skills, she and Bierut opted to go broad and look at a series of industries. A designer and a client, or one of each, will address the class once a week for 12 weeks in the fall and another 12 weeks in the spring, Helfand says, sharing with the class a project or initiative in which design “in some way proved to be transformative.”

“So we’re bringing in the digital strategist from the Obama campaign, we’re bringing in the outgoing head of design at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, we’re bringing in a movie producer,” she says. “So the students can benefit by seeing how design operates across a range of disciplines.”

(See the chart of all new MBA courses at top-20 schools at the bottom of this story.)

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