Johnson’s small and close-knit community is a hallmark of its MBA experience. The school boasts a wide-ranging portfolio of degree paths including: A Two-Year MBA in Ithaca; A One-Year MBA in Ithaca; and a new One-Year MBA at Cornell NYC Tech; the Cornell Executive MBA in Metro NYC; and the Cornell-Queen’s Executive MBA.
After a two-year review and a 30% plunge in applications to its MBA program in 2014-2015, the school rolled out to the Class of 2016 a new curriculum for its two-year MBA program. It’s the first major update to Cornell’s MBA experience in seven years, and the revamped program places greater emphasis on collaboration, leadership, and analytical skills to better prepare students for a technology-driven global business environment.
Those are a bundle of buzzwords you’ll find on the websites of every modern business school. They’re also words that have come up in recent updates to the MBA programs at both the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, and Harvard Business School.
Vishal Gaur, associate dean for MBA programs at Cornell, says the changes aren’t expected to impact the welcoming and inclusive culture of the program. Students here have long praised the school for its close-knit and highly collaborative community feel as well as the intelligence and experience classmates bring to the school. The fact that Johnson students are more-or-less isolated from major city life in upstate New York helps to foster a much more collaborative community environment than you might find at other schools. On the other hand, if students have gripes, they tend to be about the somewhat isolating location that can make Johnson a challenge when students have to travel for interviews, conferences or case competitions.
The process to revitalize Cornell’s MBA program–launched three years ago in 2012–is a model of how to connect with one’s market and learn from it. Gaur points out that the study behind the changes included student and alumni focus groups, peer benchmarking of the top 25 MBA programs, and surveys of students, alumni, corporate recruiters, faculty, and staff. More than 50 corporate executives were interviewed. The process reached more than 1,000 students and graduates from the last 12 MBA class years alone.
But it all started with the realization that a fresh approach was in order. “Johnson needed to do a curriculum review because our previous one had been done quite some time ago and the MBA landscape keeps changing quite rapidly,” explains Gaur. “There have been small changes over the years, but no major review since at least seven years. In that time, MBA programs have gotten busier and busier over the years so students need to balance the increased demands on their time.”
During the review process, Cornell found that alumni and recruiters focused more on skills, while students, not surprisingly, placed more emphasis on the logistics of the program and its execution. Students provided insights on how to organize the core and the immersions in the spring semester. “Our core is considered to be extremely intense,” says Gaur. “Students were complaining that the first year was too stressful for them.”
The alums and companies expressed the need for better leadership and communication skills, but also improved quant skills “by doing rather than learning,” says Gaur. “This is a perennial thing but I think we were falling behind and needed to do more effective job. And in terms of critical thinking and analytical skills, companies believed we needed to renew our focus here so students could immediately work better in unstructured environments.”
When the school benchmarked rivals, he adds, “we looked closely at the way their curricula was structured and how much training was being imparted through experiential vs. classroom learning. Students are migrating more toward experiential learning and less toward lectures.”
One rather significant outcome: In the past, roughly 30% of the MBA program came from lectures, with about 30% from case studies, and 20% from team projects. Gaur says the new program will cut lectures to about 20%, and up experiential learning to be equal to case studies at around 30%.