From the Dean

Despite the massive expansion of business education over the past 50 years, its actual landscape has changed glacially, rather than aggressively, in this period. And much of the reason for this lies in the continuing dominance of the MBA with its emphasis on ‘core’ topics ranging from accounting to operations management to finance to strategy.

To create what they perceive as legitimacy in business education, many universities, colleges and similar institutions mimic one another with only minor variation in program structure and content. New formats have included shorter programs such as the one-year MBA, online MBA, part-time/weekend MBA; programs intended for highly experienced executives such as the EMBA; and the truly international experience of the Global MBA (and EMBA). But the basic offering remains largely unaltered despite protestations to the contrary by business school leaders.

These MBAs are undeniably expensive and consequently pose the question as to how much value and payback they can provide. According to the most recent survey done by Forbes, an MBA at one of the leading business schools can cost about $275,000 in tuition and foregone salary. All of the top 10 ranked U.S. schools needed at least 3.5 years to achieve payback.

P. Christopher Earley

P. Christopher Earley, Krannert dean and James Brooke Henderson Professor of Management (Photo by Mark Simons)

However there is an alternative. Rather than focusing on creating ever more nuanced MBA programs, the Bologna Accord signed in Europe over a dozen years ago has opened up entirely new directions for business education. How? By identifying the need for transferability and standardization, while providing a richness of direction and added value for employers. This emphasis has given business schools a new opportunity –– to create pre-experience master’s programs that extend, complement and enhance an undergraduate degree.

These pre-experience master’s degrees also provide new opportunities for global collaborations between like-minded universities with complementary aims and goals –– such as Purdue and the Krannert School’s recent partnership on the Global Entrepreneurship Program (GEP) with university in France and China.

So what will be the impact of pre-experience master’s degrees on the workplace? I would argue that this is an entirely new value proposition for employers. While an individual with a general bachelor’s degree may have either a technical or a business background (e.g., finance or accounting), they often lack the high-value intersection of the two. With new “3+2” or “4+1” programs, an employer gets a new hire who has that crucial combination of technological expertise and business acumen.

And my conversations with business leaders around the world suggest that this is exactly the sort of individual many companies need today. As a senior executive at Lockheed Martin told me recently, “Engineers must have business sense because we need cost-effective solutions to design challenges. The era of the ‘no-limit budget’ for the most elegant engineering solution is no longer.”

A global view of the world’s top scientific innovations, an insider’s knowledge of global markets, and a true cross-cultural perspective. In my view this should be the ‘gold standard’ that this new model of business education should be aiming to achieve. And if this can be delivered we will have the satisfaction of producing graduates who can make a real contribution to companies of all sizes anywhere in a rapidly shrinking business world.

Originally published by Forbes.com as “Shredding the MBA Straightjacket” and reprinted with permission