Sometimes, it doesn’t pay to be first. Let’s face it: would you rather be Netscape or Google? It’s a story as old as business. The early birds perform the design and distribution dirty work…only to be outflanked by younger, faster, and better-funded upstarts.
In the part-time online MBA space, the market is dominated by Indiana Kelley, Carnegie Mellon Tepper, and North Carolina Kenan-Flagler. They’re great programs, but they’re not Top 10 business school brands. That’s about to change in 2019, when the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business enters the market. You can bet this entry is bound to create a ripple. Question is, will it spawn a wave that deluges the market (SMU’s Cox School of Business and UC-Davis’ Graduate School of Business will also debut online MBAs this year) -– or encourage bigger players to make their jump into this space too?
“Ross isn’t the only school innovating on the online frontier — everybody’s doing it to some degree,” says Wally Hopp, Michigan’s associate dean for the part-time MBA and director of the new Part-time Online MBA. “The question is, What’s going to shake out to be the right way? What are the best practices? And here at Ross, we’re committed to finding the best practices to serve our students, to train future business leaders.”
Chances are, it won’t take Ross long to crack the code. A pioneer in experiential learning, Ross is best-known for across-the-board excellence – with the full-time MBA program again ranking near the top of every MBA specialization according to U.S. News. Looking back on 2018 leaves the impression that Ross will enjoy a banner new year.
Take rankings. Last year, Ross rose to the 7th spot in March’s U.S. News MBA ranking – the first time it has cracked the top 10 in 14 years. At the same time, it jumped from 12th to 7th in The Economist ranking. The school could continue its climb in 2019 as well. For one, the Class of 2020’s GMAT scores rose four points. For another, the graduating class’ starting pay inched up as well. On top of that, the percentage of women in the incoming class reached an all-time high of 43% – a 10% increase in just the past four years.
Numbers rise and rankings fall, however. What really matters is philosophy and its execution. It is here where Ross truly shines. Dean Scott DeRue is fond of comparing the Ross full-time MBA to a teaching hospital – a place where students and employers alike can “try before [they] buy.” The program centers around project-based learning, with the program offering over 200 different consulting projects a year to students. While Ross is best known for MAP (Multidisciplinary Action Project), it has expanded into a new track, one DeRue calls “building businesses into the business school.”
The program is called LBLE, short for the Living Business Leadership Experience. Think of it as Ross’ biggest investment on its “mission to really reinvent the student experience.” Here, students partner with companies to launch and operate new business units. Currently covering seven companies, the LBLE program enables students to shoulder the full responsibilities of running a business, including marketing, finance, and operations.
“One of the coolest things about it is that students get to see and experience first-hand how tough decision-making can be,” says Soojin Kwon, managing director of full-time MBA admissions at Ross. “You don’t always have complete information or buy-in from all stakeholders. How do you manage in the face of ambiguity? These are the kinds of challenges that students work through in a real business.”
In other words, Ross MBAs don’t just read cases, they live them – and are responsible for how they turn out. “One of the great things about Ross is that students get to work with and for real organizations that have a challenge – while they’re students, not just read cases or identify solutions for challenges that have already happened,” Kwon adds. So they’re not only gaining exposure and experience, they’re also able to make an impact.”
Thanks to its innovative ideas, courageous commitment and relentless execution, you can expect Ross to leave a major impact on business education in 2019, too.
“It’s not about strategy. It’s about execution.”
That’s the advice that Dean Jim Jiambalvo once received from a former Starbucks CEO. By that measure, you could say Jiambalvo’s 14-year run as dean of the Foster School has been a smashing success.
It is stunning to look back at Jiambalvo’s accomplishments as he rides off into the sunset. When he took the reins, Foster’s full-time MBA program wasn’t even ranked by U.S. News or The Financial Times. And it was an afterthought with Businessweek too. Fast forward to today and Foster consistently ranks among the Top 25 programs in nearly every major ranking.
What happened? Let’s just say Jiambalvo laid the blueprint for building the modern business school. During his tenure, he placed a heavy emphasis on luring and developing the best faculty. In fact, the school’s per capita research output rivals programs like Wharton and Stanford. A prolific fund-raiser, he also worked the phones to generate over $380 million dollars from alumni and friends. This prowess enabled him to construct two state-of-the-art buildings covering 200,000 square feet during his term. That doesn’t even include the 100,000 square foot Founders Hall is slated to open in 2021. On top of that, he launched a torrent of centers, covering areas like sales and marketing strategy, entrepreneurship, global business, and leadership and strategic think.
Get the point? Alas, that’s the past. These days, Foster’s “We > Me” culture has yielded serious dividends. The incoming class featured 42% women, one of the highest rates among major business schools. Last year, the school notched a 99% placement rate for graduates, with 60% of students heading into technology – where they pulled down $118,355 bases and $38,695 sign on bonuses to boot. The reason? For one, the school offers Applied Strategy projects – mini internships if you will. The Foster difference? Students can take up to three of them.
When you’re good, luck simply puts you over the top. That lucky ingredient at Foster is Seattle itself. The “Emerald City” nickname is now more reflective of economic green than Pacific Northwest shrubbery. The Seattle market has exploded, thanks to a vibrant startup scene and a powerful Fortune 500 presence. Yes, the Pudget Sound is home to iconic brands like Amazon, Microsoft, and Starbucks, not to mention climbers like Rover and Zulily. This perk, coupled with a wealth of outdoor excursions (and coffee houses), makes Foster an increasingly covet seat among business school applicants.
“If you want to build a network of people who are currently at Amazon or Microsoft, the Foster School is a terrific environment,” Jiambalvo adds. “There are also all kinds of small companies in Seattle. And a lot of students want to be at a startup. The Bay Area is in a league of its own and then there is Boston and then Seattle. So entrepreneurship is something we also pay a lot of attention to. We have a very, very strong center, great coursework, and great experiential learning.”