At Stanford, Business & Education Go Hand-In-Hand

Stanford Graduate School of Business

At Stanford, Business and Education Go Hand-in-Hand

Historically, business schools have focused on turning a profit. At Stanford, a unique program has been challenging that notion. The Joint MA/MBA in Education and Business Administration is a collaboration between Stanford’s Graduate School of Education (GSE) and the Graduate School of Business (GSB)—and it’s an ‘unlikely’ collaboration that has required two very different fields to join forces and flourish.

Michael Kirst, a professor emeritus at the GSE and former professor (by courtesy) at Stanford GSB, oversaw the launch of the program in 1969. He went on to direct it for more than 30 years. In an interview with Stanford GSE News, he traced the program’s development.

“The story of this program is really one of persistence and change,” Kirst notes. “It took a lot of will on the part of the two schools to make it happen in the first place – and to make changes as the field morphed, and as students’ interests evolved. And it’s still flourishing.”


The joint program allows students to graduate with both an MA and an MBA in just two years. Students take a full course load at both the GSB and the GSE, in addition to a summer internship or independent study.

On the surface, business schools have very different values than education schools. Business students are taught to maximize profit and shareholder value, while education students are taught to focus on social responsibility and civic leadership.

“There’s typically not a lot of affinity and interaction between education and business schools,” Kirst says. “Ed schools often have reservations about business and its profit-making motives, and business schools have reservations about the quality of education schools. There haven’t traditionally been very close ties between the two, and generally that’s still the case.”

When the joint program began, Stanford GSB had an ambitious vision. In the late 60’s and early 70’s, then-GSB dean Arjay Miller wanted to refocus the B-school education to focus both on social responsibility and corporate interests. His solution? Launch a public management program at the GSB. A strong partnership with the education school “fit into where they [GSB] were going,” Kirst says. “And building a program with the business school really expanded what we were able to provide on our own.”

When the joint degree program officially launched, it was initially created as a master’s in educational administrations (MEA) before it changed to a joint MA/MBA program. The switch was a significant switch that helped make grads look more attractive to potential education employers—from charter schools to educational start-ups.

“If [employers] could get someone with an MBA and an MA in education, that was gold,” Kirst says.

With all the differences between business and education, it seems that Stanford has finally able to find some common ground.

“The business and education worlds are distinct but interconnected, and living in both allowed me to see there are solutions that aren’t unique to either sector,” Van Ton-Quinlivan, a 1995 graduate of the program and now CEO of Futuro Health, says. “If you’re going to be working to reshape education, you need to be able to bridge these two worlds.”

It’s the type of bridging of two worlds that isn’t very common at many schools. In fact, according to GSE Professor Emerita Deborah Stipek, it’s exactly what makes Stanford, Stanford.

“One thing I’ve always experienced at Stanford is a culture of collaboration among different schools and departments,” Stipek, who also served as GSE dean from 2001 to 2014, says. “I think that’s one of the reasons why Stanford could do this, where not many other universities would – even if they tried, and most didn’t try.”

Sources: Stanford Graduate School of Education, Stanford Graduate School of Business

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