10 Business Schools To Watch In 2023

Cornell MBAs with the Big Red Bear

Cornell University’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management

In higher education, it’s never easy to say goodbye to a program.  Administrators fret over how alumni will take the news. Let’s face it: Doesn’t shutting down a program reflect some level of failure?

That’s what Cornell University’s Johnson School faced when it announced it would be closing its one-year Accelerated MBA program last fall. Rather than succumb to sentimentality, Johnson chose to move on from its highly-ranked program – one that has been operating for over two decades – in May. Call it a hard-nosed business decision – a recognition of the reality that Johnson trains its MBAs to someday make.

“We’ve had some wonderful students come through the accelerated program and have gone on to be able to leverage it for very successful careers,” says Andrew Karolyi, dean of Cornell’s SC Johnson College of Business, in a 2022 interview with P&Q. “But we’ve never felt that we were able to drive hard enough with that given its mission as it was crafted. We never felt we were able to meet our ambitious goals for it.”

More than that, the change was a strategic “re-deployment” of resources. Rather than maintaining two full-time MBA programs, Johnson chose to bet big on its five-year-old Tech MBA. Popularly known as  Cornell Tech, it is a past recipient of P&Q‘s Program of the Year, a one-year, full-time, residential MBA based in New York City. STEM-designated, Cornell Tech starts on the Ithaca campus, where students spend 14 weeks mastering business fundamentals. From there, they head to Johnson’s state-of-the-art facilities on Roosevelt Island. There, they work in a studio in multidisciplinary teams with graduate students from engineering, law, design, and computer science. These teams partner with firms ranging from startups to Google to develop and roll out products, as well as launch their own startups. With their close proximity to Manhattan, Cornell Tech MBAs can also pursue a vast array of internships and projects that connect to New York.

Even more, Ithaca-based MBAs can take courses on Roosevelt Island, too. That gives Johnson a one-two punch that’s hard for other graduate business programs to match. “Johnson has a two-campus model, with the program based in Ithaca but with additional programming at the Cornell Tech campus in Manhattan,” explains outgoing Dean Mark Nelson in a 2020 interview. “Students can have the best of both worlds – attending one of the world’s great universities in a beautiful college town as well as a newly constructed tech-focused campus in the heart of NYC.”

The closure of the Accelerated MBA program doesn’t just benefit Cornell Tech, which has already grown from 50 to 85 students over the past five years. Karolyi also expects a dividend for the full-time MBA program, where resources such as faculty will be channeled. In fact, Karolyi adds, the school has been in full-growth mode. He projects the school will add two dozen new faculty this year after signing up 20 more last school year. At the same time, the school is exploring the possibility of developing a two-year MBA program where students spend a year in Ithaca and another in New York City. Still, closing down a proven MBA program – even one seeing a decline in enrollment – was a painful decision, admits Karolyi. However, he believes it was done for the long-term greater good.

“We see the clearer potential and differentiation of that program in the marketplace. So the marketplace is telling us that. It’s successfully differentiating itself relative to its competitor peers.”

Cascadilla Gorge on the campus of Cornell University

Alas, Cornell Tech isn’t Johnson’s only innovation. Since 2005, the school has also operated an EMBA Americas program in partnership with Canada’s Queen’s University. Relying on remote instruction, EMBA Americas employs distributed classrooms. This enables it to reach remote classrooms in 20 North and South American cities, including Boston, Detroit, Houston, and San Francisco. In a nutshell, distributed classrooms host 8-12 students in each location. The classes are taught live so students can interact directly with students. It’s a far cry from Zoom classes, says Manoj Thomas, senior director of Cornell Johnson’s EMBA programs. And this format is also why she describes the EMBA Americas program as the “gold standard” for online education.

“Every other weekend, over 150 students gather in these classrooms, to attend lectures delivered by Cornell faculty from the state-of-the-art studios in Ithaca. Although students engage with the faculty remotely, they meet their peers in person, having face-to-face discussions with fellow executives with rich and varied experience. The pedagogy in this program is specifically designed to suit this team-based learning environment. Furthermore, the teams in the distributed classrooms are also able to talk to each other, in real-time, across states and countries. Thus, the distributed classroom model brings together executives from different geographies and different backgrounds, allowing them to learn from each other’s rich experience, facilitated by an expert faculty from a remote location.”

This creative spirit has also been attractive to MBAs. During the 2021-2022 application cycle, Johnson enjoyed a 21% increase in full-time applications during a year when most schools suffered a decrease. By the same token, the Class of 2024 represents a more diverse class, with students hailing from 43 countries. Rankings-wise, Johnson has climbed 10 spots in 5 years in the Financial Times ranking – and nine spots in just the past year with Bloomberg Businessweek. In the latest Princeton Review survey, Johnson also earned the 2nd-highest marks for Teaching Excellence and the best scores for Family Friendliness and Campus Environment. In June, the school attracted a $30 million gift to build a real estate program.

This momentum has been tempered, however, with the news that Mark Nelson would be stepping down as dean in the summer of 2023. Since his appointment in 2016, Nelson has spearheaded the launch of Cornell Tech and the opening of the Breazzano Family Center for Business Education. His looming departure begs a question: How will Johnson’s priorities change when new leadership joins the program?

In the meantime, the program can play to its strengths. Recognized as one of the country’s top finance programs, Johnson boasts a signature “immersion” program, where first-years engage in industry-based courses and field work to prepare them for their internships.  Another advantage is Johnson’s Finger Lakes locale. Known for its deep gorges, rolling forests, and picturesque waterfalls, Ithaca embodies the virtues of a slower pace and simpler life – the great outdoors marked by four distinct seasons where students can hike, boat, ski, golf, and swim. That doesn’t count the farmer’s markets and festivals!

Maria Claudia Rengifo Cabanillas, a Johnson first-year, gushes over the opportunity to hike the 240 miles of nearby trails or kayak along Cayuga Lake. However, the best part of living in God’s country is how it enables students to connect more deeply, says Branden Karnell, a ’22 alum.

“I would argue that being in Ithaca forges a closer bond between our student body as most of our activities revolve around being with each other. Additionally, as someone who grew up in a city, getting away for a couple of years to a quieter area (where I can actually see stars!) has been quite nice. The abundance of natural beauty and wineries always helps, too.”

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