Poets&Quants’ “10 Business Schools To Watch” honors the MBA programs that aren’t just adapting to the marketplace – they’re disrupting it. These schools have closely monitored trends, recognized ripples, and tailored programming that makes employers more competitive and graduates more agile. In the process, they’ve acted as roadmaps as much as inspirations.
Now entering its eighth year, the feature showcases schools that act like real businesses. Understanding that complacency represents their biggest threat, the “Business Schools To Watch” are always looking to do more and be more. They embrace their competencies and leverage their assets – and they invest to maximize their impact. Take the Wharton School. This year, the program is bringing an Ivy League Executive MBA to the masses online, the first M7 program to attempt this feat. By the same token, Georgetown University’s McDonough School has laid out an ambitious five-year plan predicated on sustainability, global business, and mentorship that taps into its Jesuit DNA. In addition, Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business has pioneered employer partnerships that enable students to gain practical experience that stands out.
What do the “10 Business Schools To Watch in 2023” have in common? For one, they charged ahead, unafraid of risk or criticism; they never let their creations get swallowed by bureaucracy or diluted by compromises. They’ve mined what’s important to students to harness the spirit of our age. Most of all, they’ve carved out an advantage, created an identity, and charted a course that set them apart. Along the way, they’ve captured their peers’ attention and become the programs that everyone is watching.
THE 10 BUSINESS SCHOOLS TO WATCH ARE SETTING THE PACE OF BUSINESS EDUCATION
Which business schools are setting the bar as we enter 2023? From IIM Ahmedabad to Washington University’s Olin School, here are the MBA programs poised to set the pace in the coming year.
Is the online experience just as good as the in-person classroom? Will the market pay a premium price to earn a degree from an iconic brand?
Get strapped in: We’re going to watch a case study unfold in real-time – straight from the Wharton School.
Come May, the Wharton School goes online with its Global Executive MBA. Technically, Wharton has been online for more than a decade. After all, the school literally wrote the book on producing MOOCs with MBA-caliber programming taught by star faculty. However, Wharton is the first to produce an online hybrid MBA program among the ‘Big 5’ business schools (Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Chicago, and Northwestern). Lasting 22 months, the program expects to enroll 60-70 students initially, boosting Wharton’s EMBA population to 300 students total.
One difference: three-quarters of instruction will take place in live online sessions, generally held in the early mornings and late evenings. The remainder will be held over five residential weeks on Wharton’s campus. In other words, Global EMBA students can get to know their classmates and professors in-person while largely taking their courses virtually.
“I’m not totally comfortable calling it an online degree, because that has this connotation of sitting in bed with your laptop watching videos,” explains Brian Bushee, Wharton’s senior vice dean of teaching and learning, in a 2022 interview with Poets&Quants. Here, 100% of the class time will be with one of our professors, and some of it will be in person.”
That caution may be wise on Bushee’s part. Wharton is charging $214,800 for the program – the same price tag as its totally in-person EMBA programs run out of Philadelphia and San Francisco. In some ways, you have to admire Wharton’s confidence. Let’s face it: the school is simply applying the same faculty, programming, and support to an online audience, some of whom are expected to be executives hailing from overseas. True, the online program entails less food and housing for students. However, on-site EMBAs will tell you that this benefit is offset by the costs of returning to campus every two weeks.
Call it an alternative designed for executives who simply can’t give up two weekends a month for a Wharton MBA. For that flexibility, Wharton expects to add $15 million dollars from its first Global EMBA class to its coffers. The program also represents several dangers for the Wharton brand. Not surprisingly, John Byrne, P&Q’s grizzled editor-in-chief, was happy to play devil’s advocate.
For one, he poses the question that Wharton seemingly dodges: Is the cost worth the return? He points to Indiana University’s Kelley Direct Online MBA – the #1 online MBA program in the world – which is nearly a third of Wharton’s cost at $82,158. At Boston University and the University of Illinois, Byrne adds, online students could earn an MBA for roughly $25,000. When it comes to prestige, Harvard Business School Online offers a somewhat viable option – even if it is not a full degree program.
“Here’s another way to look at it: Executives could take every single online course available from the Harvard Business School for the total cost of $33,250. For that sum, they would get 19 courses in everything from business essentials to leadership and management, entrepreneurship and innovation, financial and accounting, strategy, and business and society. HBS even instructs its online students on how to list their certificates and credentials from the school on LinkedIn and on their old-fashioned written resumes. Take every single one of those courses for $33,250, or a mere 15% of the cost of Wharton’s new online EMBA.”
What’s more, Byrne observes, the online EMBA may compete with Wharton’s own on-site EMBA option as much as online players like Michigan Ross, Carnegie Mellon Tepper, and UC Berkeley Haas. “The school is making the bet that the online format will not substantially cannibalize its in-person programs in Philly/SF. But the on-par pricing makes this a difficult proposition. If the educational content and experience are perceived to be identical, why would anyone choose the 50 required Friday/Saturday trips to Philly/SF during the same 22 months, get affidavits from employers that they’ll get every other Friday off from work, and spend hours commuting when they could confine the residential components to a few modular weeks?
In the MBA population itself, Byrne wonders if EMBAs will look to switch between the on-site and online formats. And that doesn’t even count how the full-time MBAs – which numbers nearly 1,800 students – might react to the addition of an online program.
“Adding a cohort or two of students to an already huge student population will require more faculty resources,” Byrne writes. “Full-time students are likely to react adversely to both a perceived dilution of the Wharton MBA and the diversion of faculty from teaching the full-time MBA roster.”
Those are big risks for Wharton. This past year, the school has reigned as the #1 full-time MBA program with the Financial Times, U.S. News & World Report, and Poes&Quants (not counting a #1 undergraduate program). Still, the launch of an online program reveals something profound about the Wharton School. While many business schools are inflating their endowments, the Wharton School is continuously investing to maximize the student experience. That includes its entrepreneurship hub, Tangen Hall. Seven stories high, Tangen Hall connects Penn’s startup and innovation communities, providing space to design, test, and scale their young ventures.
“The new 70,000 square foot state-of-the-art building features a food innovation lab, street-level storefront popup retail spaces for student retail ventures, a virtual reality environment, digital media lab, maker studios, and plenty of open work space,” shares Blair Mannix, P&Q’s 2022 Admissions Director of the Year. “Tangen Hall introduces a new partnership by the Wharton School, Penn Engineering, and the Stuart Weitzman School of Design to consolidate Penn’s startup ecosystem.”
This year, the Wharton School is also launching new concentrations in Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). The school doesn’t just teach these areas. Increasingly, they are operating from them, with women representing the majority of the class for two consecutive years. Still, you could say scale and scope are the Wharton School’s biggest advantage. The school boasts a 100,000-member alumni network in 153 countries, covering seemingly every industry, company, and role. And then there is pay, with Wharton alumni enjoying the largest ROI for their MBAs over their careers.
“Wharton teaches business differently,” explains Blair Mannix. “We value “learning from doing” and provide our students with a tactile education so they can meet tomorrow’s biggest business challenges. Our program is versatile, and innovative, and helps students get the business knowledge and specialized skills to expand career choices and join one of the world’s largest and most prestigious alumni networks.”
And what can MBAs expect from the Wharton School in the future? Ironically, the future – as in ongoing education – is exactly where the school is training its sites next. “I really want Wharton to be the trusted, lifelong partner in your needs around business education,” explains Nicolaj Siggelkow, the school’s vice dean, in a 2022 interview with P&Q. “Clearly, we try the best we can to teach you a lot in the two years that you’re here. But, we can’t teach you everything that you will need to know, and you don’t know what else will come five years, or 10 years in the future. Thinking about the customized, personalized journey, it shouldn’t stop after two years.”
Next Page: Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management
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