As a native of Singapore, Tan brings some background in global change to the UMKC’s Bloch School of Business, where he became director last fall. Some of that experience will show up this fall with changes in the school’s MBA programming.
At MBA programs around the Kansas City region, as well as nationally, global forces are at work, reshaping not only the content of instruction, but the methods for teaching it. In addition, more parochial factors are influencing programming, some specific to schools and their mission, some the result of national trends.
At the Bloch School, those changes mean rollout next fall of a curriculum redesigned to focus on what Tan cites as four key aspects of business education:
• Experiential learning, moving away from individual students hitting the books, attending lectures and taking tests, toward such exercises as working with peers in teams to solve real-world business problems.
• Entrepreneurial, with a greater emphasis not only on the skills needed to start a business from the ground up, but how to apply those same skills in corporate settings, making organizations more nimble and responsive to emerging challenges.
• Integrative, combining into a more seamless program the elements of instruction that previously had been taught in what Tan calls “silos” of instruction: accounting, human resources management, finance, etc.
• And, of course, infusing it all with a mind-set that business skills will be put to use in a global economy.
All of those changes, Tan said, will occur within a program he calls “uniquely positioned” to deal with a changing American business environment—one becoming profoundly more connected to government. The Bloch School’s existing public administration curriculum, focusing on skills needed in not-for-profit organizations, will provide key elements of a more completely integrated program, he said.
CHANGE ON MANY FRONTS
MBA programs in the region are experiencing changes in other ways, faculty members and program directors say. Driving up interest in MBA programs generally has been the reluctance of recent bachelor’s-level graduates to wade into combat in the curent employment environment; they want the MBA to start their careers on a higher plane.
Among other changes on campus: Fewer companies are footing the bill for their employees’ MBA studies. More mid-career people who find themselves jobless or under-employed are turning to business schools so that they can compete more effectively for work when the economy recovers. And, as Tan noted, more schools are embracing problem-solving instruction in team settings.
Dan Falvey, chairman of the business management program for Baker University’s School of Graduate and Professional Studies, notes other changes on a macro level.
“What we see all the time is the amazing impact that the financial crisis has had on business schools and curriculum,” said Falvey, a specialist in organizational management. “A lot of people are turning to business schools—pointing fingers, actually—saying ‘You got us into this mess, not having trained more ethically conscious leaders.’ We’ve seen an emphasis in schools improving what we do in that arena.”
Baker, he said, was on board with the effort to produce the next wave of leaders who bring to business a sense of sustainability—with respect to both the environment and the business itself—as well as a commitment to socially responsible organizational behavior. It’s doing so by infusing more of its classic liberal-arts instruction into the business curriculum.
“Baker has been a leader in the critical-thinking arena for many years,” he said. “It’s a fundamental, foundational piece of our undergraduate programs.” Applying those skills to business settings—in effect, instilling in decision-makers the obligation to ponder more than merely short-term success—will produce a healthier business environment in the long run, Falvey said.
At Rockhurst University’s Helzberg School of Management, admissions director Michele Haggerty says the college has sharpened its regular MBA program’s curricular focus on team-building instruction with community projects. The team-building aspect is a national phenomenon; the community service is more specific to the Catholic school.
“Part of the Jesuit tradition is service, and we’re incorporating much more service into our classes,” Haggerty said. “We believe it helps develop leaders, and we wanted something that would be more hands-on in its approach.”
School officials also have reached out to more alumni and working professionals to get them involved with MBA students in roles as mentors—which has the added benefit, as Haggety notes, of creating networks that will be invaluable later in the graduates’ careers.
Craig Sasse, who oversees the executive management program within the Helzberg School, said that while it’s been a greater challenge to maintain enrollment, given tuition-reimbursement cutbacks at corporations. But that segment was still drawing interest from mid-range career professionals in such varied disciplines as engineering, pharmaceuticals or life sciences because it can provide much-needed managerial and leadership skills to complement the technical skills of those looking to move up within an organization.
“They need the content piece, the basics of finance, marketing or accounting, as well as the process piece, being in charge of people” to move up the organizational ladder, he said.