Business Education In 2023 & Beyond: A Sprint And A Marathon

Business Education In 2023 & Beyond: A Sprint And A Marathon

Business schools must respond to rapidly changing industry needs in both the short & long term, writes Iowa Tippie’s Jennifer Blackhurst

Higher education is not an industry known for agility – a categorization that may be fair in some cases, but arguably not as fair when it comes to business schools. Historically faster to respond to shifting needs in industry, technology, and the economy, business schools have always adapted more quickly to changes in the world outside the academy.

Lately, however, with rapid advances in technology and a working world that looks significantly different than it did before the pandemic, the business school model is being challenged in new ways. While our curriculum review processes may have allowed for a reasonable response rate a decade ago, the current pace of change in industry and consumer demand requires business schools to employ both short- and long-term changes simultaneously, and more frequently. Schools that don’t are putting themselves, and their students, at a severe disadvantage.


A lot has changed in higher education and the world of work in a very short amount of time. With business schools at the center of both, it’s our responsibility to accommodate shifting needs on all sides. We all pivoted quickly at the onset of the pandemic because we had to. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t always perfect, but we made changes that likely would have taken years, in a matter of weeks. Business schools moved all courses online, offered additional student support and flexibility, and introduced certificates for upskilling in urgently needed areas like crisis leadership and others. We proved we were agile and capable of providing employers and students what they needed, when and how they needed it. And it would be a mistake to consider that approach a one-and-done solution.

The reality is we’re still coming to terms with the full impact of COVID on workplaces and schools, and the need for nimbleness in the curriculum and course delivery is not going away. Even as we’ve learned to live and work with COVID, new disruptors like AI have burst on the scene in ways that make it clear we are in for a period of continuous evolution. It used to be the norm for business schools to conduct a comprehensive curriculum review every three to five years. It was considered sufficient, good even. Many schools didn’t involve industry experts in the process in any significant way, and that too, was okay. But neither of these things is enough now. Students and employers want access to fast, cutting-edge upskilling in areas that are just now emerging. They don’t have time to wait for the next program review, or to complete a full two- to three-year degree – and employers don’t have time to wait for them. If we’re not ready to keep up with the new pace companies and students now demand as the norm, employees will find other ways to get the training they need, and companies will find ways to offer it themselves.


The practice of quick pivots doesn’t mean we should throw out old practices altogether. Instead, we need to continue our previous process of longer-term review and planning, while also layering on top the ability to introduce new offerings or make changes to existing programs almost as quickly as we did at the start of the pandemic. Think of it as a sprint and a marathon – endeavors that might sound overwhelming on the surface, especially when done simultaneously, but ones we’re better prepared than ever to finish well.

If we can resist the urge to fall back on old methods—a difficult task when people are craving a “return” to normal—there is a lot we can officially adopt from our pandemic responses to keep us nimble going forward. Consider structures that were introduced on an emergency basis that could provide an effective model for everyday use. At the Tippie College of Business, where I serve as the associate dean for graduate management programs, we set up a course shell when we went fully remote. Each online course was given the same look and feel, with assignments, lectures and other materials all located in the same spots. It was a challenge for faculty to get used to handing over control of these elements, but students report that the consistency helped improve their learning. And, faculty are still given a lot of freedom for creativity in course content, assignments and live sessions. As part of the migration to online delivery in spring 2020, we also developed much clearer standardized learning objectives for all our courses—a process that is now followed when introducing new programs online and in person. Both the course shell and revamped learning objectives allow us to grow, change and scale much more quickly than in the past. And with enrollment up almost 70% in the past three years, this is critical for us.


While comprehensive program evaluations every few years, or even at the end of each semester are still needed, we have found enormous value in more frequent conversations to gauge effectiveness and trigger immediate adjustments when necessary. One of the ways we’re doing this is through advanced analytics of our online programs. We can see, in real time, how students are behaving in our classes, how their behaviors correspond to their success, and whether students seem to be struggling in certain areas. When they are, we can step in earlier.

Just prior to the pandemic, we launched a fully online MBA based on student demand that then seemed prescient when the global pandemic came. At the same time, keep in mind that not all changes are big and sexy like new degrees or certificates. One structural change we made in 2022 based on student demand was seamlessly integrating our part-time MBA with our online MBA, which allows students to take classes online, in person, or a combination of both depending on their needs. Efforts like this require ongoing investment and commitment at all levels—from the dean’s office to the faculty developing the programs and teaching the classes, to the instructional design team and the staff providing support, but this system allows us to be more responsive to student and employer demands. And, in today’s rapidly changing world, if we are not continually adapting, we are not relevant.

Jennifer J. Blackhurst is associate dean for graduate management programs at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business.

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