Poets&Quants‘ “10 Business Schools to Watch” honors MBA programs that aren’t just adapting to the market—they’re disrupting it. These schools closely followed the trends, recognized the waves and created tailor-made programs that make employers more competitive and graduates more agile. In the process, they acted as guideposts as much as inspiration.
Entering its eighth year, the feature showcases schools that operate like real businesses. Realizing that complacency is their greatest threat, “Business Schools to Watch” are always looking to do more and be more. They embrace their competencies and leverage their assets – and invest to increase their performance. Take the Wharton School. This year, the program brings the Ivy League Executive MBA to the masses online, the first M7 program to attempt that feat. In the same vein, Georgetown University’s McDonough School has laid out an ambitious five-year plan based on sustainability, global business and mentoring that fits into its Jesuit DNA. In addition, Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business has established partnerships with employers that allow students to gain hands-on experience that stands out.
What do the “10 Business Schools to Watch in 2023” have in common? In the first place, they charged forward, unafraid of risk or criticism; they never allow their creations to be swallowed up by bureaucracy or diluted by compromises. They have mined what is important to students in order to tap into the spirit of our age. Most of all, they gained an advantage, created an identity and charted a direction that set them apart. Along the way, they captured the attention of their peers and became programs that everyone watches.
10 BUSINESS SCHOOLS TO FOLLOW SET THE PACE OF BUSINESS EDUCATION
Which business schools are setting the bar going into 2023? From IIM Ahmedabad to the University of Washington’s Olin School, here are the MBA programs that will set the pace in the coming year.
Is the online experience as good as an in-person classroom? Will the market pay a high price to acquire a degree from a legendary brand?
Buckle up: We’ll watch the case study unfold in real time—direct from the Wharton School.
In May, the Wharton School goes online with its Global Executive MBA. Technically, Wharton has been online for over a decade. After all, the school has literally written the book on creating MOOCs with MBA-caliber programming taught by stellar faculty. However, Wharton was the first to produce an online hybrid MBA program among the ‘Big 5’ business schools (Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Chicago and Northwestern). Running for 22 months, the program is expected to initially enroll 60-70 students, increasing Wharton’s EMBA population to a total of 300 students.
One difference: Three-quarters of the classes will take place in live online sessions, usually held early in the morning and late at night. The remainder will take place during five residential weeks on Wharton’s campus. In other words, Global EMBA students can meet their colleagues and professors in person while mostly taking their courses virtually.
“I’m not really comfortable calling it an online degree, because that has the connotation of sitting in bed with a laptop and watching videos,” explains Brian Bushee, Wharton’s senior associate dean for teaching and learning, in an interview with Poets&Quants in 2022. Here, 100% of the classes will be with one of our professors, and some will be in person.”
That caution might be wise on Bushee’s part. Wharton charges $214,800 for the program—the same price as its all-in-person EMBA programs run out of Philadelphia and San Francisco. In a way, 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 coming from abroad. True, an online program means less food and housing for students. However, an on-site EMBA will tell you that this benefit is offset by the cost of returning to campus every two weeks.
Call it an alternative designed for executives who just can’t give up two weekends a month for a Wharton MBA. For that flexibility, Wharton expects to add $15 million from its first Global EMBA class to its coffers. The program also poses several threats to the Wharton brand. Not surprisingly, John Byrne, editor-in-chief of P&Q, was happy to play devil’s advocate.
First, he asks the question that Wharton seems to avoid: Is the cost worth the return? Highlights Kelley Direct Online MBA from Indiana University – online MBA program no. At Boston University and the University of Illinois, Byrne adds, online students can earn an MBA for about $25,000. When it comes to prestige, Harvard Business School Online offers a somewhat viable option – even if it’s not a full degree program.
“Here’s another way to look at it: Executives could take every single online course available at Harvard Business School for a total cost of $33,250. For that sum, they would get 19 courses in everything from business basics to leadership and management, entrepreneurship and innovation, finance and accounting, strategy, and business and society. HBS even instructs its online students how to list their school certificates and credentials on LinkedIn and in their old-fashioned written resumes. Take each of these courses for $33,250, or just 15% of the cost of Wharton’s new online EMBA.”
Moreover, Byrne notes, the online EMBA can compete with Wharton’s own on-site EMBA option as well as online players such as Michigan Ross, Carnegie Mellon Tepper and UC Berkeley Haas. “The school is betting that the network format won’t significantly cannibalize its in-person programs in Philly/SF. But steam prices make this a difficult proposition. Assuming the educational content and experience are identical, why would anyone choose to take 50 required Friday/Saturday trips to Philly/SF over the same 22 months, get statements from employers that they will get every other Friday off work, and spend hours commuting when they could limit residential components to a few modular weeks?
Within the MBA population itself, Byrne wonders if EMBAs will seek to switch between on-site and online formats. And that’s not even counting how full-time MBA students—who number nearly 1,800 students—might react to the addition of an online program.
“Adding a group or two of students to an already large student population will require more faculty resources,” Byrne writes. “Full-time students are likely to react negatively to both the perceived dilution of the Wharton MBA and the diversion of faculty from the full-time MBA roster.”
These are big risks for Wharton. Last year, the school was ranked No. 1 by the regular MBA program with Financial Times, US news and world reportst, i Poes&Quants (excluding undergraduate program #1). Yet launching an online program reveals something profound about the Wharton School. While many business schools are increasing their endowment, the Wharton School is continually investing to maximize the student experience. This includes its entrepreneurial hub, Tangen Hall. Seven stories tall, Tangen Hall connects Penn’s startup and innovation communities, providing a space for their young ventures to design, test and scale.
“The new state-of-the-art 70,000-square-foot building features a food innovation lab, street-level retail spaces for students’ retail ventures, a virtual reality environment, a digital media lab, maker studios and plenty of open workspace,” shares Blair Mannix, P&Q- this director takes office in 2022. “Tangen Hall presents a new partnership between 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 Environment, Society and Governance (ESG) and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). These areas are not the only ones taught at school. More and more are operating from them, and women represent the majority of the class for two consecutive years. Still, it could be argued that size and scope are the Wharton School’s greatest strengths. The school boasts an alumni network of 100,000 members in 153 countries, covering seemingly every industry, company and role. And then there’s the pay, with Wharton alumni enjoying the highest ROI for their MBAs over the course of their careers.
“Wharton teaches business differently,” explains Blair Mannix. “We value “learning by doing” and provide our students with a tactile education so that they can meet the biggest business challenges of tomorrow. Our program is versatile and innovative, helping students gain business knowledge and specialist skills to broaden their career choices and join one of the world’s largest and most prestigious alumni networks.”
And what can MBA students expect from the Wharton School in the future? Ironically, the future – as in continuing education – is exactly where the school is training its locations next. “I really want Wharton to be a reliable, lifelong partner in your business education needs,” explains Nicolaj Siggelkow, the school’s associate dean, in an interview with P&Q 2022. “Clearly, we’re doing our best to teach you a lot in these two the years you have been here. But we can’t teach you everything you’ll need to know, and you don’t know what’s coming five years, or 10 years in the future. Thinking about a tailored, personalized journey, it shouldn’t stop after two years.”
Next page: Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management