On the surface, the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business would appear to be quite different programs. With 585 full-time students in its 2018 Class, Booth is nearly triple the size of Tepper. While Tepper first-years walk lockstep through a rigorous core curriculum, their Booth counterparts pick-and-choose from a generous menu of courses in required subjects.
Look deeper and the programs are strikingly similar. Both are rooted in big shouldered, blue collar hubs with emerging entrepreneurial scenes. Each program teaches a data-driven curriculum that focuses on using information to drive decision-making. Even more, each is defined by something both intangible yet definitive: teaching excellence.
In 2016, The Economist conducted its annual survey of MBA students. Grading their programs on a five-point scale, Booth notched a 4.86 average, tops among the top 25 American and international MBA programs. In contrast, Tepper scored a 4.79, just a shade below teaching powerhouses Harvard Business School (4.81) and UVA’s Darden School of Business (4.80) — while edging out top teaching faculties at such luminaries as Haas and Tuck. In addition, both schools made stunning progress over the previous year, with Tepper’s score rising by .20, while Booth leapfrogged Darden and Fuqua for the top spot.
TEACHING AND RESEARCH FEED OFF EACH OTHER
What’s behind both programs’ success in this area? Not surprisingly, both programs resemble each other in several respects. For one, they look to research and teaching to complement the other. Forget the image of the reclusive researcher churning out reams of tables from a basement office. At both schools, the research refreshes the curriculum, providing insights and opportunities that differentiate their MBA programs from others.
“What makes you a great researcher also makes you very effective in the classroom,” argues Booth’s Stacey Kole, deputy dean for alumni, corporate relations and the full-time MBA program (along with being a clinical professor of economics herself). “Our faculty bring that style of inquiry — pushing, asking questions, and the back and forth — into the classroom along with their research.”
In fact, faculty research is a key teaching tool at Tepper, notes Mike Trick, senior associate dean of faculty and research. Take the school’s introductory organizational behavior course, for example. Here, the faculty has integrated new research on the role that gender plays on teams — findings you won’t find in any academic journal.
“We are a research-focused school,” Trick emphasizes. “We really value the research of our faculty and we reward faculty for that research. We also want that research to show up in the classroom itself. That means that students are getting some really current stuff. It is rare that the content in many of our classrooms is coming out of textbooks.”
NEW RESEARCH FINDINGS OPENS OPPORTUNITIES FOR TEPPER STUDENTS
Such research also opens up avenues for students to gain experience that gives them a leg up on peers at other programs, Trick adds. “I’m teaching a course with one of my junior colleagues on the use of business analytics and optimization in business decision-making. Our students all spend time on these mini projects. Every project has come up in the last eight months. Everything is new; all the data is new and all the techniques and approaches are new. It is completely different than the same course last year or before that.”
This mixture of stellar teaching and pioneering research has been a hit with students at both schools. “They also see the thrill that the faculty have and that’s contagious,” Trick observes. “It makes students realize that this is not just static stuff that they need to be learning like MBAs from 10 years ago. There is new and interesting stuff and these people are really good at getting that across and making it relevant.”
For Kole, this is one reason why the MBA experience at Booth is so transformative. “A lot of students come to business school in general thinking that they need a credential. Our students disproportionately walk away saying, ‘Oh my God! I learned an incredible amount.’ They point to the fact that they have real cutting edge scholars who are in front of the classroom.”
BOOTH STUDENTS CHOOSE THEIR PROFESSORS
Of course, great teaching is amplified by great learners. Booth has structured its curriculum to bring out the best in both. Notably, Booth doesn’t require students to take any specific courses except for its famed LEAD (Leadership and Development) option. This flexibility doesn’t stop with a choice of courses, but also factors in learning styles.
“You can take a more case-based version of a course or a more theoretic version,” says Kole. “You can take ones with faculty members who are inclined to facilitate more active discussions. You can take another one from someone who’s known for giving amazing lectures. The student can match his or her preference for style. We really customize the experience in a way that makes it fundamentally different for the student.”
This approach doesn’t just favor the students, however. It also makes life much easier for the professors. “For the faculty member, you know that people sitting in the classroom have chosen to be there,” Kole explains. “So the classroom environment is filled with more engaged students because they are picking the kind of learning that they want.”
PROFESSORS LOBBY FOR STUDENTS AT BOOTH’S FIRST-YEAR ORIENTATION
That starts at Booth’s orientation, which can be described as a cross between a political rally and the NFL draft. On one morning, faculty members will address the first-year students, sharing what they teach and how they approach their subjects. According to Kole, the faculty members are campaigning in many ways, hoping to attract the best students to come and learn with them. For Booth students, it is a way to make more informed choices early in the process.
“Students will walk into orientation and have a list of 20 classes that they want to take,” Kole says. “At the end of the morning, they’ll say there are 40 or 50 classes they want to take. Some even tell me, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m going to have to stay for three years!’ That morning is the embodiment of the energy and excitement that the typical Chicago faculty member has about teaching.”
Such enthusiasm, coupled with a gung-ho student body, also fosters stability in the faculty ranks. “If you talk to faculty at Chicago, one of the things I hear them say is that if you have to teach MBAs anywhere, you want to teach at Chicago Booth because the students come to learn. The faculty feels that and appreciates that.”
(The Economist faculty ranking is found on page 3)