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8 Ways B-Schools Have Reformed Their Curriculum Post-Crisis


First published on OnlineMBA.com

Like the parents of a misbehaving child, business schools are getting dirty looks for what their children have been up to the last few years. Although it would be too simplistic to place blame squarely on B-schools for the subprime mortgage crisis, it’s tempting to wonder what the world might be like now had every business and MBA student ever minted been given a thorough understanding of financial bubbles, business ethics, critical thinking, and so on. To their credit, educators in the field are attempting to address the shortcomings of their wayward graduates by reforming their curriculum for the next generation of businesspeople.

  1. Making ethics education a top priority:

    The financial crisis underscored a sense of urgency that B-schools have felt since the major corporate scandals of the early 2000s to convey to students the need for smart, responsible decision-making. This means changing the focus of the curriculum from teaching students to maximize profits to a more well-rounded view that also considers employees, customers, and society at large. In the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, the new global MBA program will integrate a broad worldview and cultural awareness into the entire curriculum, rather than confining it to one or two special classes. Some schools like MIT’s Sloan School of Management are bolstering their current ethics courses, while the New England College of Business & Finance has created a master’s in “business ethics and compliance.”

  2. Emphasizing the big picture:

    Along with the shift to a focus on ethics has come changes in curriculum to broaden students’ viewpoints past dollars and cents. For example, had MBAs really looked at mortgage-backed securities, they would have recognized a risky asset posing as a solid one. As Stephen Spinelli, the president of Philadelphia University, has said, “When we bring students into business school, we narrow their vision. We teach them to focus with increasing blinders until they have pinpoint recognition, but that limits what they can see on the periphery.” To this end, Philadelphia’s MBA program recently began to include collaboration with other schools within the university system.

  3. Strengthening leadership skills:

    All this ethics training is useless unless business students have the confidence to take a stand when they encounter unethical business practices at their companies. At the very least, the effects of the mortgage crisis could have been softened had a few key people had the courage to buck the tide and call for an end to predatory lending and other harmful practices. To prevent such a situation in the future, and to encourage innovation in the new marketplace, B-schools are reforming curriculum to emphasize leadership. Examples include Harvard Business School’s required first-year course “Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development,” Haas School of Business’ “Berkeley Innovative Leader Development” initiative, and “Leading with Ethics and Compliance” curriculum at the Haas Center for Executive Education.

  4. Offering specialized certifications:

    As the job market has suffered as a result of the recession and jobs have become scarcer, some business schools have taken it upon themselves to help students stand out from the pack. They’re now offering certification programs for specific business analysis tools and databases. Lehigh University’s Financial Services Lab, an offshoot of the College of Business and Economics, is offering a first-of-its-kind program for students to learn CQG, a market prediction tool. The University of Chicago Booth School of Business recently announced it would begin offering Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA) certification courses to help students “attain a level of competency as an advanced investment consultant.”

  5. Deemphasizing the importance of models:

    Steven Haberman, deputy dean of Cass Business School in London, says, “The teaching of derivatives relies on a particular statistical model that everyone who does research in this area knows isn’t right. It’s a convenient assumption.” Cass and other schools are integrating the teaching of “exotic” products like credit default swaps and mortgage-backed securities with education on stocks and bonds because of their part in the financial crisis. Schools are also updating the financial models to factor in the crisis, while emphasizing to students the fact that the models are not perfect.

  6. Encouraging entrepreneurship:

    The post-crisis market is still a volatile one, but the flip side of the coin is that there will be new opportunities. Creative ways of thinking and doing business will be necessary to move the economy forward, toward recovery. At Babson College’s Olin Graduate School of Business, educators have reformed the MBA curriculum to “push students while they’re students to think about going into a career with an entrepreneurial mindset.” A new Harvard Business class will team students in small groups and have them create a new product or business. A new class called “Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability” at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, in combination with the design school, has been developed to inspire the creation of new products to benefit people in extreme poverty.

  7. Emphasizing critical thinking:

    Critical thinking is a skill most college recruiters think college students from all fields need to improve the most. For businesspeople, the crisis revealed an inability or unwillingness to question the assumption that the current practices were healthy, so B-schools are changing curriculum to mimic what students will be faced with on the job. Villanova’s School of Business has combined first-year management courses with marketing, and accounting with finance. Stanford’s Graduate School of Business has done likewise, requiring first-year students to take “Critical and Analytical Thinking” and revamping curriculum to highlight multidisciplinary viewpoints. In their first year at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto, students will take “Fundamentals of Integrative Thinking.”

  8. Introducing new classes:

    Some colleges have decided that to effectively cover new topics brought to light by the crisis, modifying existing class material won’t be enough. New classes are popping up across the country to address issues that are now fixtures of today’s business environment. At the Booth School of Business you’ll find “The Analytics of Financial Crises” and “Understanding Central Banks” on the electives list. Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business has two new offerings as well: one on the history of financial bubbles, going back to 1690, and one on corporate restructuring (à la American Airlines). Columbia’s got two, too: a case study of the auto industry, and “The Future of Financial Services” in the aftermath of the financial crisis.


Article courtesy of OnlineMBA.com
Photos courtesy of Tulane Public Relations

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