In this episode of Business Casual, the hosts discuss key trends in business schools for 2024. They focus on the growing use of videos and interviews in MBA admissions, moving beyond AI-assisted essays emphasizing the importance of authenticity in applications.
They also cover the evolution of teaching methods post-Covid, with a notable shift towards hybrid online and in-person classes in MBA programs. The hosts touch on the increasing relevance of AI in business education, highlighting the need for understanding its ethical implications. Furthermore, they discuss the rising importance of environmental and health topics in business studies, especially in European schools.
This episode is essential for those interested in the evolving landscape of business education and how it prepares future leaders for the challenges of 2024.
[00:00:07.370] – John
Well, hello, everyone. Happy new year. Welcome to 2024. We’ve got a new year. Hopefully it’s going to be a good one for all of you and for us. We certainly have our fingers crossed, and we’re incredibly enthusiastic about turning the page in 2023 in that regard. Business Casual, our weekly podcast with my co-host, Maria Wich-Vila and Caroline Diarte Edwards are going to look into the crystal ball and find out, well, what are our predictions for what’s going to happen in 2024 and business education. Our last podcast, we looked over the year of 2023. We highlighted some of the big trends and some of the big stories. So in this podcast we’re going to look ahead, and I think some of the themes that we talked about last time are going to be very resonant in 2024. And Maria, I wonder if you’d start us off with what’s number one on your list.
[00:01:13.430] – Maria
There are so many things, it’s hard to prioritize, but I think one of the things that might be the most impactful that we haven’t seen in the past is going to be the continuing impact of ChatGPT and other generative AI and what that means in terms of first of all, I think some of the admissions offices coming up with rules as to what is or isn’t allowed. I think some of the different schools have had different approaches to you can’t use it at all to you can use it, but within limits. So there’s just been a lot of ambiguity around what is going to can an applicant use ChatGPT, for example, in their essay writing process. So I think that’s going to start emerging. And I also think that there will be a continued expansion of video essays to try to combat the suspicion that might now surround the written materials.
[00:02:09.150] – John
Yes. Caroline, you agree?
[00:02:11.710] – Caroline
Yes, absolutely. I think schools will be concerned about authenticity in applications and really looking for that authentic voice. So I think that it’s even more important for candidates to get their personality across in their application so that it doesn’t sound like something that is rather bland that could have been AI generated. And I absolutely agree that I think schools will put more emphasis on video elements and perhaps also interviews as well as those are so far, we cannot send in a bot on our behalf to do those elements of the application. So I think schools will be really looking at those to give them a sense for what is unique about the individual and also to cross check how an individual communicates on video and how they communicate in interview. And then does that cross check with how they come across in the written application. And I think another way that AI will impact business schools is that of know schools are integrating this into the curriculum and figuring out how to help students grapple with this and harness this in their future careers. And something that popped up that I thought was interesting in one of your articles, John, where deans were talking about their expectations for the year ahead.
[00:03:36.630] – Caroline
One of them was talking about how ethics will really be reinforced as an important part of the curriculum in the context of AI. Right. Because there are so many ethical concerns that this raises, and it will be important for students to know how to grapple with that and hopefully harness AI in a positive way for society rather than in a negative way. So I think that schools, it’s definitely going to have an impact, and that’s something that they’re all grappling with in terms of how to integrate that into their curriculum.
[00:04:08.790] – John
So let me pose a question to the two of you about generative AI. It’s possible to create an avatar of yourself and have your avatar answer a question. And I wonder, with schools that have asked applicants to do like a 1 minute intro video as part of an essay question, if an applicant actually used an avatar themselves to do it, would it be greeted well by the admission staff, or would it be immediately rejected? Caroline, what do you think?
[00:04:40.910] – Caroline
I think it’s an extremely risky approach.
[00:04:46.490] – John
Creative, too, and innovative.
[00:04:48.770] – Caroline
It is, it is. But I don’t think it’s advisable. I mean, look, I know somebody once who wrote a kind of joke essay for their standard undergraduate application and got in because the admissions office thought, wow, this is really off the wall and fun and memorable. So in some cases, perhaps if everything else is outstanding and they come across well in all the other elements and they interview well, then it could be seen as innovative. Right. But I think it’s an extremely risky approach. Not something I would.
[00:05:28.090] – John
Right. Maria, you agree? Right?
[00:05:31.160] – Maria
I enjoy always our resident diplomat, Caroline, using words like risky and not advisable, I’m like, what a stupid idea. What a dumb. I mean. This is not one of those, know, I think there’s room for creativity and for standing out. But on the other hand, talk about completely missing the point of even having a video element, right? If you think about it from the admissions perspective, the video element is meant to get a sense of who you are as a person, to hear your real voice, both literally and figuratively. Like, what kind of a person are you? What’s your personality? And so to submit an avatar AI computer generated thing is not just not like, oh, it’s not different and creative, but it also completely misses the point. And so you’re kind of signaling to them that you either don’t know or don’t care that the admissions process is trying to get to know you as a person. So I would use far less diplomatic words than risky and not advisable. I think it’s a terrible idea.
[00:06:36.190] – John
Yeah. There’s no doubt, however, that the debate over generative AI and how it should be used in the classroom and admissions will become even more relevant in this coming year. There are a lot of schools have been grappling with this issue over the past year in particular, and many of them have come up with some conclusions about how it should be taught, how it should be harnessed, how students should use it or not use it. So I think that’s going to continue to be a very big and important topic of discussion. I think another thing is, and this has been mentioned by the dean at Cornell who we interviewed for our story on predictions for the year, learning habits of students have changed post Covid, it’s clear that digital education has become much more prominent, and it’s going to be interesting to see how schools experiment in in person learning with digital learning techniques. There obviously are ways to use video and streaming and the online interventions that are used in online education in an in person format. And to the extent that you can deliver more the flip classroom, the so called flip classroom that many people have talked about for years, but do it much more effectively with digital education so that when you do meet in person, those sessions are even more dynamic and more interactive than they even have been.
[00:08:11.420] – John
Should be probably something that we’re going to see in this new year, and I think you’re just going to see more of a mix. So in other words, there’s digital education and then there’s in person education. I think we’re going to see more of a blending across these two divides, and that’s been occurring mostly in the part time arena, where schools have increased their flexibility for part time students. So that many programs now allow you the opportunity to do your courses in person or online if you can’t make the class, and I think in more traditional full one year or two year in person programs, you’re going to see more use of digital learning techniques. Maria, you think that’s possible?
[00:09:01.710] – Maria
It’s definitely possible. In fact, in November I was back at HBS and we sat in on a class being taught by a friend of ours from school who is now a professor at the school. And it was really surprising to see against the back wall that there was sort of a panel with video and some people were actually dialing in, presumably because they were not feeling well or something that day. But that’s something that would not have even been allowed. Even if it were technically possible or technically feasible, it certainly wouldn’t have been allowed a few years ago. So even a school like HBS, which is so strict about things like you must attend class and you must be on time and all that stuff, even for them to start having, like in the back of the classroom, oh, here are some people who are attending from someplace else or not in the classroom. So I’m definitely seeing that. And I think we’ve seen some schools start to offer things like a hybrid MBA, where you can do some semesters virtually and some semesters in person. So you get kind of the best of both worlds.
[00:09:56.600] – Maria
And I suspect that a lot of schools will start doing that, even if just to appeal to a broader base of students. Right. To try to get more people to say, look, you don’t have to take two entire years out of your life and uproot everything about yourself for two years to get this degree. We will work with you so that you still get the education and the benefits of the experience, but in a less disruptive the. I think you’re right, John. I think that’s definitely going to be something that continues.
[00:10:26.530] – John
Yeah. And one of my favorite people out there, Brian Mitchell, who runs the full time MBA programs at Goizueta at the Emory University, has mentioned the same thing. The flexibility to take the MBA has dramatically increased because demand for flexibility is great. The days of just thinking about an MBA as simply a two year program are long gone. In many cases, online versions of the MBA and part time versions of the MBA far exceed in enrollment. Full time MBA programs that almost all the schools that offer these options, which just shows that people really want the flexibility to get this education in ways that don’t force them to quit a job and have no income for two in on digital learning. I would think that a school, Caroline, like INSEAD, with multiple campuses, could use digital learning in really new and fascinating ways. Because if you’re sitting in Fontainlo and you have people, students in Singapore and San Francisco and Abu Dhabi, you can bring them all together digitally and make that part of the in person program, right?
[00:11:51.010] – Caroline
Yes, and they’re already doing that. The school has already adopted a lot of these practices and integrated virtual teaching into the program, and they’ve been doing some really interesting stuff, particularly of course spurred by the pandemic, but that has only continued and of know with a new dean at INSEAD. I think one of the reasons that he was brought in, Francisco Velozo, was because he has this experience at Imperial of driving digital transformation. And I think that will be a key part of his mandate at the school over the coming years to continue. I think the school has already made a lot of great strides and I think that that is something that will really be a top priority for them over the coming years. And that’s one of the reasons why he got the job. And I absolutely agree that there is a lot of demand for flexibility and schools are looking to address that. And this is part of the continued shift away from the two year program. Right. And I think that in the future there will still be the flagship two year programs at the top schools and those will remain strong.
[00:13:05.200] – Caroline
I don’t see those losing appeal anytime soon. But for the rest of the markets I think there’ll be far more diverse offerings. And one of the challenges for schools, I think, is that the two year program is so widely recognized. Right. And it kind of has a brand in itself and it’s great to have all of these new innovative master’s degree programs and different options, but it’s kind of a confusing marketplace for applicants and then also for recruiters. So I think it’s a challenge for schools to try and get that same brand recognition for those additional degree programs so that the students and the graduates from those programs will get the same value and return on investment that the graduates have had from the two year MBA programs.
[00:14:00.930] – John
Yeah, definitely true. The other thing I think that’s going to be a big issue in the new year is the continuation of the importance of climate change, sustainability and health care. These are areas that the business schools have embraced, have added specializations, concentrations, majors, degree programs, experiential learning opportunities, and I see no decrease in that. In fact, in the sustainability area where we’re doing a lot of special reports and we’re going to be holding a very big event on sustainability this coming year. That will be an international event where 3000 people are expected to come, this is just a massive area. Of course, this is also why we chose INSEAD as our MBA program of the year, because INSEAD completely revamped its curriculum from top to bottom around this topic. And just more and more schools are jumping on this bandwagon because this generation really is interested in some of the big societal challenges we face as a human species. And they think that business is a way to address those challenges. So sustainability, healthcare, climate change, are going to be big issues for the business schools in terms of their curriculum, in terms of their experiential learning opportunities and this whole area, ESG, it’s just exploding.
[00:15:36.630] – John
Caroline, you see this in Europe in particular. I think actually, in many ways, the european schools have actually taken a leadership role in this field.
[00:15:46.030] – Caroline
Yeah, I agree. It’s much more integrated into the curriculum at schools like insead than it is in many of the top us schools. And I think that also reflects just a general awareness of these issues. As you know, I’ve lived in the US for many years, and I’ve lived in Europe for many years, and I spent a lot of time in Europe. And I am aware that, or I am quite surprised at how big the difference is in the consciousness of environmental issues and people’s personal responsibility in that regard in Europe versus the US. And the US is way behind in that. And I think that hopefully the US will do some catching up. But it’s great that some of the schools like INSEAD have been taking the lead on this also, Oxford said business School, because what Business Casual. You wrote about this in your article about INSEAD being the school of the year, that businesses, what businesses are telling business school is that they are having difficulty translating their sustainability goals into day to day reality of how they execute and how they implement and new business models. And so they’re really looking to a new generation of leaders to understand how to grapple with this and how to lead and implement.
[00:17:11.220] – Caroline
And so I think it’s wonderful that schools are looking to make this not just an elective right, not just an add on that’s nice to do, but really a fundamental part of the curriculum because it will be a huge part of the graduates jobs going forward. And fortunately, this generation really wants to take on that challenge. Thank God that they do. And they are aware that they are heading into a market that has a great deal of uncertainty. I think as we look forward, we look ahead to the coming year. To me, it seems a more uncertain world and more chaotic than this time last year. And business school candidates and students are aware that they are entering a very complex geopolitical environment and that this has an impact on their businesses. Right. In terms of supply chain shocks, which we’re seeing right now in the shipping industry. Given the conflict in the Middle east, things can change extremely quickly. And understanding how to address that and how to operate in a very ambiguous environment will be in a very important skill going forward. And I’m thrilled that schools are looking to really make this a fundamental part of the methodology.
[00:18:37.410] – Caroline
Sorry, their pedagogy.
[00:18:39.090] – John
Yeah, so true. And you mentioned the uncertainty and the chaos, and it’s true. I think with social media, we tend to focus more on the negative than the positive. And there are more people against things than there are people for things. And I’m just going to say that at business school, I find students who are much more positive, much more upbeat, much more willing to acknowledge the good things than the bad. And I don’t know if this is just a question of the people who go to business school are more optimistic in general or what it is. I mean, Maria, do you think that’s true?
[00:19:26.870] – Maria
I think business schools attract people who are doers, people who make things happen. I think it’s a self selecting sort of thing where you’re probably not going to bother going to business school. I mean, you’ve got to be optimistic if you’re going to take out $100 to $200,000 of loans to get this degree. I mean, you’ve got to have a pretty positive attitude in general or optimism about your own life. So I think there’s that part of it, right? You wouldn’t even invest in such a degree if you didn’t have some sort of fundamental positive assumption or positive hopes for yourself. But even in general, I do think that business schools tend to seek and let in people who are definitely hands on, who make things happen, who don’t just sit around and complain and say, oh, management in this company is so messed up, and we’re just going to sit around and at the coffee maker, I think that’s right. They look for people who are the people who are like, I don’t think it should this way, and let’s change things, and why don’t we try something different? Those are the people who get into business school.
[00:20:29.770] – Maria
Those are the people who are attracted to business school. And so I’m not surprised to hear that when you are talking to business school students that you are seeing people with sort of a proactive, can do attitude.
[00:20:40.170] – John
Yeah, I’m going to just tell you, it always gives me tremendous hope for the future to meet with young people who have goals in life to not only obviously improve their own lot, but to improve the lot of others. And they do focus on the positive, and they are doers. I think this is nothing more than another endorsement for, why do you want to go to business school? To be honest, because I would want to be surrounded by positive people who are going to get things done and to put some emphasis on this, in this world that often seems so uncertain, so chaotic, so filled with turbulence. Since January of 2020, 113 and a half million jobs have been created in the United States. Unemployment has fallen from 6.3% to 3.7%. There’s been no recession, even though economists have been forecasting one for over a year. We’ve had a quick recovery from economic shocks with inflation, interest rates falling. They’ve had higher growth or lower inflation than any advanced nation on earth. And yet everyone is hand wringing and crying and moaning. So I think this coming year is a hope. This is less a prediction than it is a hope on my part, that people realize the good things that are happening and the positive things and lift themselves off of the social media morass and quagmire that exists, that brings them down and makes them be against things instead of for things.
[00:22:18.590] – John
I mean, that’s more of a hope than it is a prediction for 2022. And maybe, Caroline, do you have a hope as opposed to a prediction for the new year?
[00:22:30.610] – Caroline
Well, in terms of business schools, I’m hoping that the recruitment market will pick up, because 2023 was not a fantastic year for people graduating, and some employers postponed offers and weren’t recruiting in such large volumes. So it was not a fantastic year recruitment wise. And I think that given the factors that you’ve mentioned, it may well be a more positive outlook for people coming out of business school in 2024. So that would be wonderful. And then I think that a new Trump presidency would be very bad for business schools. We know that in the past, it really damaged the flow of international candidates to graduate education in the US. And so that’s just one small reason why I hope that that’s not the prospect that we will be facing at the end of this year.
[00:23:26.950] – John
Yeah. And obviously, that’s a big issue in the United States, the election that’s kind of really dominate the news and the impact of that, which is a reason why I want to put a positive spin on things, because there’ll be a lot of negative advertising and a lot of negative comments coming out in this very polarized world that we have other predictions in terms of application flow, we always talk about, when is it a good time to apply, when is it a bad time? And the truth is, we’ve seen, we think, an uptick in applications this current season. This past week is a very big week where round two applications are due at most of the big brand name schools, and we’re seeing an uptick there, not a big one. But an increase over the previous year. And Maria, do you think that’s going to continue into the rest of this.
[00:24:27.910] – Maria
Mean, one never knows. But if I had to guess right now, I’d say things will probably be pretty steady going into this year from what we just saw or what we’re seeing right now. So I don’t expect any major shocks downward nor upward, of course. I feel like every three months we’re like, oh, there’s a whole new thing that we’d never anticipated happening three months ago, and here we are. But as of this moment, in this very delicate moment in which we find ourselves, I think application numbers will probably be steady this year.
[00:25:01.390] – John
Yeah. And Caroline, you’re seeing an uptick in your business as well that suggests that things are a little bit better than they were last year in terms of application flow. Do you think that that’s going to pretty much stay steady throughout the year?
[00:25:16.130] – Caroline
Yeah, I think that the 2023 – 2024 season will have seen slightly larger volume than 2022 – 2023. And I would agree that where things stand right now, as of the beginning of January, it looks to me like there will be no major trend up or down in application volume. And in any case, candidates are often trying to look into the crystal ball, right. And think about when is the best time to apply. And I would always encourage someone just to apply when it’s the right time for them, rather than trying to second guess the market, because you cannot second guess the market. And if you’re a strong applicant, then you can stand out regardless of where the cycle is. So I would encourage people to focus on the best timing for them personally, rather than being too concerned about reading the admissions tea leaves.
[00:26:10.230] – John
Yeah, that’s really true. Always the best way to apply is when you can put your best foot forward and not regard, with no regard to how the application flow is or anything. Look, the best time to apply is when you know you can do a good application and your chances of getting in are increased because of that. So, Caroline, one surprise is Stanford has not yet named a new full time admissions director for their MBA program, and it’s been now over a year since the loss of their full time director. What do you make of it?
[00:26:54.920] – Caroline
Well, I think that it’s been very difficult for them. It’s a bit of a hot potato role to take on, and it’s not an easy position to fill. I know that they’ve cast a very wide net. I know several people who’ve been contacted for the position. It feels like every time I bump into someone they mention. Oh, by the way, I was contacted for the Stanford GSB editions role, so they have been casting a very wide net. What I’ve also heard is that they are looking to appoint, ideally, a Stanford alum, Kirsten Moss, who was there previously, who was fantastic, was an HBS graduate. And from what I understand, the school feels that the optics of having another non Stanford MBA might not be not so positive. So I believe that they’re looking to appoint someone who is a Stanford graduate. And of course, that’s not easy because Stanford graduates are so incredibly successful and the cost of living in the Bay Area is extraordinarily high. And it’s a challenging role. Right. Look at what happened in admissions last year with all of the legal action, and there’s ongoing legal action this year. So it’s potentially a very high profile, challenging role to take on for not a vast amount of money.
[00:28:18.700] – Caroline
So I think the ideal candidate would be someone who is a GSB grad, who’s already made their money and is not so concerned about their income, but relishes the challenge of it’s a wonderful role.
[00:28:36.140] – Maria
[00:28:36.650] – Caroline
What a fabulous thing to be the gatekeeper to what many people regard as the world’s best business school. Possibly, right. Or one of the world’s best business schools. So it’s a huge honor to have that role, but at the same time, it is a real hot seat to be in, I think. So perhaps the ideal candidate would be a GSB alarm who hasn’t read the news in 2023 about what was going down in admission.
[00:29:09.790] – Maria
From the marketing side of it, though, Caroline, if they have an HBS alum, I mean, the story is like, our graduates are so successful that they don’t need to take on this role, and so we had to take someone from a lesser business school.
[00:29:26.870] – Caroline
That’s a great spin. I love it.
[00:29:33.350] – John
The other issue, and I bring this up because of the recent resignation of the president of Harvard University and all the rhetoric around her. And I wonder, you know, what impact this is going to have on DEI efforts. All the schools are very much dedicated to enrolling diverse classes of students, and not merely by gender and race, but socioeconomic background, industry, work experience, geography, and more broadly defined diversity measures. But to the extent we now have a Supreme Court decision that bans favorable treatment to applicants who apply from minority backgrounds. And you also have now the first black female president of Harvard resigning the job under tremendous pressure and very harsh publicity, what impact this is going to have on DEI efforts at business schools? Caroline, you have a view on that?
[00:30:45.870] – Caroline
Well, I think this is all part of the culture wars in the US, which are sadly being mobilized. It’s being activated to mobilize people for the purposes of upcoming elections. And I think that’s very sad. So I am less positive than you, John, about people getting out of social media, not going down rabbit holes of negativity. Unfortunately, I think that that is only going to increase this year, and AI will only worsen that, unfortunately. So I think that we will see ongoing culture wars on campuses, and I think it’s going to be very difficult for schools to manage this. But the schools have the desire and the will to continue with those efforts. I’m sure that they will continue with their DEI efforts. It will just be under greater pressure, no doubt, from certain parties and stakeholders.
[00:31:49.100] – John
Yes, I think that’s right. And I think there’ll be greater scrutiny of this issue and all the whole cultural war issue that’s been going on here, particularly in the United States, for some time. I think in a way, hopefully it peaked in 2023, but with the election coming up and all that, it will likely raise, I’m not so sure that it has peaked. That, in fact, the worst is yet to come. Maria, any thoughts on that?
[00:32:20.890] – Maria
So much for the optimism going into 2024.
[00:32:25.020] – John
That’s why you want to go to business school and be an optimist.
[00:32:27.650] – Maria
I know. Seriously, let’s all just embrace that. Let’s just envelop ourselves in that energy. Let’s just surround ourselves with, let the.
[00:32:34.400] – John
Political science students do and the law school students.
[00:32:38.690] – Maria
Oh, my gosh. I feel like the social media thing, it’s just the last election, the last couple of elections have shown that, unfortunately, fear and loathing are extremely profitable. And I think the algorithms are just getting smarter and smarter at giving us those dopamine hits and those hitting the amygdala, that fear based lizard part of our brains. And they’ve realized that they can make a lot of money that way. So I just think they’re getting better and better and better at guiding us.
[00:33:13.870] – John
Here’s something interesting, and it has little to do with predictions for the new year, but it does tie into this discussion. Two weeks ago, I was sitting down with the dean of UNC’s Kenan Flagler business School, who just joined the school from UVA, Darden. Terrific person. And she pulled out a piece of paper and drew a chart on the piece of paper that basically showed a line soaring upward from 2005 to the present. And during the pandemic, it went up just a little bit and what the line represents is the amount of mental illness in America. And so the question was, well, what in the world happened in 2005 to have caused this great spike in mental illness? And it turns out that in 2005 was sort of the year of the widespread adoption of the smartphone and access to social media and its addictive properties, and how people are so addicted and so unlikely to be present wherever they are, and to be influenced by all of this craziness that goes on in the world, poured into your social consciousness by anonymous people who have no courage to stand behind what they contend they believe.
[00:34:37.390] – John
And I’ll have another hope that people try to break their addiction with this technology and to unleash themselves from their phones and be present with their friends and with their relatives and with themselves, instead of being so completely addicted to this technology and leashed to it in a way that influences what they think, what they say and how they act. That is not a prediction, but it is a hope. So let’s just be really hopeful about 2024. Anyone who sits down when the calendar changes and they do a resolution that they inevitably don’t follow through on, just a stating of a resolution, is a hopeful act in and of itself. Let’s all hope that all of you out there become more present, become more positive, become doers, instead of people who comment on other people’s failings and focus on the positive in life, because that’s how you’re going to have a positive, more enthusiastic, a more meaningful life, by focusing on the positive. In all the years of interviewing leaders in both the corporate and non corporate worlds, one trait above any other that I found in almost every leader, with no exception, is how positive they are and how optimistic.
[00:36:04.600] – John
You don’t get anywhere in this life by being negative. You just don’t. So for 2024, I’m going to put on a smile. I’m going to be a happy person, and I hope you are, too. And again, Maria and Caroline, I hope you’re going to be happy this year. And for all of you out there, I hope that your dreams are realized. And if you are applying to business school this year, know that it’s a great time to go and be in that positive company. Thanks for listening.