The concept of an M.B.A. has taken a beating in recent years. Articles in Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and other outlets have all questioned the value of the once coveted degree. M.B.A. enrollment has been on the decline, and prospective students are looking at Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, as viable, free alternatives to enhancing their careers. Others are suggesting start-up incubators are a more valuable investment for the student’s time and money.
Taking a lesson from what we teach our students, the Merrick School of Business, with our partners at Towson University’s College of Business and Economics, embarked on an extensive and radical redesign of the UB/Towson M.B.A. The charge from the presidents of both universities was clear: reinvent the M.B.A. Simply changing course titles and content wasn’t going to be enough. The approach is revolutionary—not evolutionary. We accepted the challenge, and I can attest that the program has undergone a true transformation – one that shakes the foundations of a graduate business education in both content and course delivery.
We designed the new M.B.A. in partnership with the Baltimore business community, our esteemed alumni, current and prospective students, and faculty. Too many times, curriculum is created behind closed doors in the “ivory tower” of academia. Our approach was different. We consulted with business leaders from some of the area's top companies. We surveyed students and alumni. We held focus groups. We conducted secondary research. We made sure the new M.B.A. would meet the needs of the students we serve and the business community that hires them.
We uncovered a lot of evidence that there continues to be strong demand for the M.B.A. The graduate business degree of the 21st century, however, must to be flexible, nimble, modular, customized, relevant to an entirely new business environment, and delivered to a student population that is connected via technology like no other generation in history. For our students to blaze a trail in business and the community at large, the existing M.B.A. model had to be replaced.
Our new M.B.A. is organized by themes:. “Managing Innovation and Strategy,” “Leading and Managing People,” “Interfacing with External Stakeholders,” “Managing the Value Chain,” “Managing Performance and Risk,” and “Leveraging Technology and Business Intelligence.” All of our M.B.A. courses fit into one of these themes. Given this thematic focus, no course was left untouched during the redesign.
This doesn’t mean that we changed just for the sake of having done so. The process scrutinized and updated the traditional M.B.A. curriculum, and now provides a fresh take on the global business environment. Where we needed to, we designed new courses, such as Creativity and the Entrepreneur Mindset, to prepare students to be innovators; or Business Analytics, which delivers knowledge about the increasingly important uses of “big data.”
Build YOUR M.B.A.
There are a set of required core courses that all students must take. However, there is now a “flexible core” in which students can choose to take courses with an entrepreneurial focus, or alternatively, with a corporate focus. For example, the core sequence in finance will have students take Financial Management for 1.5 credits, and then they will have the option to choose either Entrepreneurial Finance or Corporate Finance, each for 1.5 credits. This approach gives students the common foundation of learning that employers expect, but it also encourages students to choose between a more entrepreneurial, early-venture focus, or a more traditional corporate path to suit their needs and career aspirations.
Most (but not all) of the courses in the new M.B.A. are 1.5 credit classes taught in seven-week sessions. Our research showed that not only do students want faster, “bite-sized” courses delivered in a more “multiple front” format, but that these types of courses actually enhance student learning, especially online.
The standard 15-week semester might be reaching its natural end. The world has changed, and learning styles and goals change with it. The new M.B.A. will be delivered in six 7-week sessions over the year. The combination of 1.5 credit classes and these shorter sessions preserves the quality of the program, gives students a highly flexible and convenient schedule, and could speed up a student’s time to complete the M.B.A. program.
AACSB is the gold standard of business school accreditation—worldwide less than 5 percent of all business schools have been bestowed this hallmark of excellence. We have it at Merrick, and the changes we have made to our M.B.A., although they are instantly noticeable, preserve our AACSB accreditation.
Online and On-Campus Courses
The new M.B.A. will continue to give students the opportunity to take classes both on-campus and online.
The M.B.A. remains a smart, highly prized degree. In fact, it’s likely needed more now than ever before. But like any product or service, it must be adapted as the demands of the market shift. The UB/Towson M.B.A. faculty heard this drumbeat of change, and now we’ve created a new class of M.B.A. that prepares our students for the workplace of our globally connected new century. This really isn’t “your father’s M.B.A.”—it’s the M.B.A. of a bright, brilliant future.
Frank J. Navratil, Ph.D.
Merrick School of Business