Of the many changes in MBA programs over the past decade, one of the most significant has been the generational shift of the student body. The Millennial generation began entering full-time MBA programs in large numbers in the late 2000s and has since grown into the predominant student population.
Most of what is written about Millennials is not exactly high praise. However, like all large populations, we understand them better when we segment them. There is a segment of high-achieving Millennials who deserve substantial credit for the re-inventing of the MBA experience. Here are five ways Millennial students have made MBA programs stronger:
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. These smart students brought their smartphones with them, much to the chagrin of the faculty…at first. As these devices and applications became more than just tools for texting and taking selfies, students became the drivers of faculty willingness to embrace personal technology in enhancing learning experiences in the classroom.
Swiping and tapping now give us real-time data on everything from attendance to student satisfaction scores. Simulation and gamification exercises no longer require painful, synchronized software downloads or the dreaded CD/ROM installation. The examples are plentiful, and while technological advances make these things possible, Millennials have made them integral to the MBA experience because of the very thing about which we complained–they are inseparable from their devices.
Everyone knows Millennials value experiences. As MBA programs compete to attract and yield these high achievers, more experiential elements have been added to our curricula, and co-curricular experiences have been integrated into our offerings. At Emory’s Goizueta Business School, finance lessons might include a visit to the Federal Reserve Bank with an alumni speaker. Lessons in leadership include a day at Fort Benning’s Leaders Reaction Course led by U.S. Army veterans who are often also alumni. These experiences have become part of our value propositions as prospective MBA students have made clear they prefer to learn by doing and want to participate in activities with their peers.
It may be a stretch to say Millennial MBAs value experiences more than employment and compensation, but the gap is closing. By providing more experiential learning elements into our programming, we have gotten better at delivering courses and developing leaders who learn through direct engagement with the real world.
While it is generally true Millennials expect a lot of feedback, what distinguishes the high achieving segment is they actively solicit it. The desire for constant feedback can be tied to their digital upbringing. However, the delivery of feedback does not need to be technological. Finding time and forums for face-to-face conversations (such as after-action reviews) with students who request them has been an important effort at many business schools.
Research by Gallup and others highlights the positive correlation between feedback and engagement, and most educators can clearly speak to the value of an engaged student body. MBA faculty and administrators have become better at providing meaningful feedback with more frequency and creativity, and we have Millennials to thank. Office hours and coffee chats, for example, are heavily used by some students who just want to “check in” for general feedback, rather than focus on specific content questions.
Combine immediate access to limitless information via smartphones with a few years of work experience and a willingness to challenge authority and you get the MBA classroom environment of the past decade.
Thankfully, many MBA faculty members have adapted their teaching methods to address these dynamics. We have become better communicators of “the why behind the what.” We have become more inspirational when connecting theory to practice. We understand that we will be fact-checked in real-time, so we are diligent about the details we use while working to incorporate relevant cases and examples into our discussions. Gone are the days of, “Trust me, I’m a professor.” They have already Googled you. They know.
As generations have shifted, so have post-MBA career interests. Traditional roles such as finance, marketing, and consulting are still critical to our students and employer partners. In addition, Millennial interests vary widely and include emerging sectors, social enterprise, and entrepreneurship. Millennial students actively seek roles and organizations that relate business to society in direct and indirect ways.
MBA Career Management Centers have become more nimble and better networked to meet these student needs. Companies founded and/or led by Millennials often rely less on the on-campus recruiting model, so we have evolved in our flexibility on how to connect them with our students. Newer roles, companies, and sectors now exist so our alumni networks are often more valuable than our databases when helping students explore those opportunities. High achieving Millennials have been on both sides of this improvement—student and employer. When we look at all-time high MBA employment, Career Management Centers deserve credit for adapting as much as delivering.
At Goizueta, we make no secret of striving to be the best MBA environment for high achieving Millennials. This is not only because of our high-touch, transformative experience but also out of respect for how we have been transformed by them. Millennials have challenged us in ways that have enabled us to create a better MBA experience, and in return, we have been able to deliver better MBA graduates into the market.
Brian Mitchell is the Full-Time MBA Associate Dean at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. Prior to joining Goizueta, Brian spent 20 years in marketing and strategy roles in the pharmaceutical industry where he earned distinguished awards such as Brand of the Year and the Pharmaceutical Global Marketing Award. Brian has an Ed.M. in Higher Education Leadership and Governance from Harvard University and was awarded Harvard’s 2016 Intellectual Contribution and Faculty Tribute award for his research on global partnerships in graduate business education.