COVID-19 has turned our lives upside down for the past few months, posing significant challenges to our daily lives, particularly for those who work and study. The MBA was already difficult enough before the pandemic began, but with the disruption on top of it, the impact on business schools is only getting heavier.
In this episode of Poets & Quants’ “Business Casual”, Maria, John, and Caroline collaborate to forecast what other changes will likely occur in the near term, as well as what the coming years of business education will look like.
- How has the pandemic, on the brighter side, helped business schools prepare for 21st-century technology?
- How difficult is it for faculty to adapt to the adjustments brought on by the pandemic?
- What are the benefits and drawbacks of online learning for business schools?
- What other aspects of business schools might change in the next five to ten years?
- How important are GMAT and GRE tests? Is it more realistic for business schools to only have optional tests?
[00:00:07.090] – John
Hello, everyone. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants. Welcome to Business Casual, our weekly podcast. Today we’re going to look at the future of business education. We’re going to peer into our crystal ball, gaze into it, and imagine what business education will look like in the next five to ten years. We’ve certainly seen a lot of disruptive change in the last couple of years the pandemic. So my co host Caroline Diarte Edwards, and Maria Wich Vila will conspire with me to maybe forecast what other likely changes will occur in the near term. So I wanted us to think a little bit about how is business education going to change over the next five to ten years. We’ve been through this period where there were major disruptions, and faculty, many of whom, frankly, didn’t want to have anything to do with online teaching, had no alternative and basically had to start teaching, at least by Zoom. Now, while remote instruction is not the same as designing from scratch an online course, it did familiarize a lot of faculty with current technology. And I think a lot of faculty came away from that experience quite favorably disposed toward teaching online.
[00:01:34.320] – John
And so I wonder in this and many other ways, how it’s going to affect the delivery of business education over the next five to ten years. Caroline, you have some thoughts?
[00:01:47.030] – Caroline
Yeah, for sure. I think it propels schools into the 21st century of technology. Well, not almost overnight, but certainly very rapidly in a way that would not have otherwise happened had it not been for the pandemic. And as we’ve mentioned before, educational institutions are not always the first to embrace change and innovation. Right. And faculty can sometimes be quite resistant to that. And faculty can be very difficult to manage. And if they don’t want to do something, they’re not going to do it. It sort of compels people to embrace something that they might not otherwise have done. And I’m sure that’s going to continue to be a big part of how business calls operate. So schools have figured out how to do this. Of course, you will not replace the in person interaction, and that’s still going to be critical to the business school experience, because so much of the learning is about getting to know each other and building those relationships and learning from each other. And it’s still hard to achieve that in the same way online as you can in person. But schools have figured out that there is a lot that you can do online very efficiently in terms of some formats and some knowledge transfer that also gives students in different locations or professors in different locations the ability to interact.
[00:03:13.080] – Caroline
So it’s a very positive thing that it’s another tool that schools now have at their disposal, a sort of pedagogical tool that will enrich the programs and make them more efficient and effective and give everybody more flexibility in how they engage with their education. So definitely that’s going to be an ongoing element to a different degree. Right. Some schools will put a greater emphasis on this than others. And some schools will really make this a huge part of how they deliver their education and more of it will be online. But I think it’s great that blended learning has really become embedded in education now.
[00:03:57.790] – John
Yeah, exactly. And of course, this also affects the growing acceptance of the online MBA. And while we often talk about the Harvard Stanford’s Award and London Business School in our podcast, the truth is that online MBA programs are growing by leaps and bounds and more schools are entering the market. And if you look at one of the most disruptive programs around at the University of Illinois, where you can get an MBA online for $22,500, they started six years, a little more than 100 students in the first cohort. And now they’re up to over 4300 enrolled students in an online MBA. And I have to say, over the years, I probably have interviewed as many as 50 different of those students. And the quality is really surprisingly good. And they come from Fortune 500 companies. They come from obviously, a lot of the tech companies where technology is so on the present that there’s no thought or consideration that you would be getting an inferior education if you got it online. So you’re seeing more people get the online MBA. And I think that the online MBA, more importantly, is becoming more competitive, certainly with part time eating programs, with executive and surprisingly full time MBA programs.
[00:05:30.270] – John
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken to that looked at full time MBA programs at NYU Stern, a Columbia, a Kellogg, or a booth and ended up in an online MBA program just because they might have been a little bit older than the open window for late 20s people. And they didn’t want to extend the kind of money that’s required for an executive MBA. And they didn’t want to go and do the evening grind where you have to go after work to a class once or twice a week. And the flexibility of getting your MBA online is just ideal. And so they went that way and a lot cheaper because obviously there are no opportunity costs involved. So I think we’re going to see over the next five to ten years, too, a shift in the percentage of people who get an MBA and get it online versus in an actual classroom. Now, the other piece of this is the employer acceptance of online education. All employers have largely had to work with their employees remotely. And while a lot of people want to get back to work and actually go to the office and actually be able to socialize with their fellow employees, I think a lot of companies have discovered that, hey, it actually worked.
[00:06:51.660] – John
There wasn’t a significant decline in productivity. In some cases, there was an increase in productivity among employees. And while we may have sacrificed some bonding, some culture, it kind of worked out. Maria, do you think that we’re going to see greater acceptance of online education from the employer side?
[00:07:11.880] – Speaker 3
I think we will in theory and in execution. It actually puts a lot of pressure on these earlier people who were some of the pioneers to get the online MBAs. Right. Because if they get the online MBAs and they come to the workforce and they don’t really perform that well, that negative. It’s not exactly going to be great for the branding of the quality of those programs. So I think as long as the people who are getting the online MBAs now realize that sort of all eyes are on them, so to speak, and if they go out there but they say kick lots of butt, the proof is going to be in the performance. And if they can perform on par and contribute as much as the standard MBAs, traditional, traditional NBA’s, I think it’s going to be great. I think it’s going to really take off.
[00:07:56.070] – John
Yeah, that’s a really good point, because if the early hires from some of these online MBA programs tend to be duds, that’s going to be a significant factor in overall acceptance. And there are firms that, particularly in the accounting area, that have partnered with some of the major online MBA providers online and getting their employees online degrees, which also has obviously increased the acceptance of them. Now the other implication for technology is on something that Dean has been talking about for ages but has never really materialized, and that is this concept of lifetime learning. Now, Caroline, I’m sure in all the years that you’ve been involved in business education, you’ve heard that term lifetime learning, lifelong learning over and over again, but it never really was meaningful in any significant way. Do you think technology is going to change that?
[00:09:02.510] – Caroline
Yeah, I think there is a greater expectation now among students and alumni that the school will add value to their career, not just for that year or two years, but throughout their lives. Right. I think the expectation is higher. And of course, there’s an awareness that you need to be constantly keeping your skills up to date and building your knowledge with a rapid pace of change. You need to keep up to date, and the schools have a role to play there. And I’ve observed that as an alarm. I didn’t see it over the past 18 months. But when the pandemic started, the school started doing a lot more webinars for alumni with really interesting classes offered by professors and discussions and panels and so on. And there has been dramatically increased over the past 18 months the availability of those sessions and resources and so on. And it’s a wonderful way for the schools to engage with the alumni as well and maintain that relationship, which is, of course, financially very important for the schools because the alumni is such an important source of donations and financing. So I think it’s a win win situation if the schools can figure out how to do that effectively and not just the delivery of knowledge and enabling alumni to keep their skills up to date.
[00:10:25.510] – Caroline
But also I see the schools offering more and more in terms of career support and alumni reaching out more frequently to the schools when they are sort of facing a transition in their careers, which, as we know, is going to be just more frequently the case. Right. People are not going to have one linear career. They’re most likely going to have many jobs and many different careers through their life. And so when those transitions happen, the schools also have an important role to play there in providing support, and they’re gearing up for that as well. I think it’s great for both sides because if the school can figure out a way to do that efficiently, then it creates a lot of goodwill from the alumni, and goodwill can often be translated into donations INSEAD.
[00:11:20.190] – John
The other aspect of this is the perishability of knowledge. The world has changed so rapidly, primarily because technology and the advances in technology and artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the greater need for business analytics. Given the massive data sets that are available to businesses today, I think that people are going to need refreshers of one kind or another throughout their career to stay as relevant and to stay on top of things in a way that maybe they couldn’t before. And to the extent that budgets and companies have been greatly diminished for training and development, you have the need for the school to step in and do this. And the other beauty of the technology, and you can do it more cheaply because it is delivered by technology and people don’t have to leave work, go to a College campus for a week, multiple weeks, several days. I miss out on work entirely. So that really adds to the experience and the value of lifetime learning delivered by technology. What other things do you think could change over the next five to ten years?
[00:12:34.070] – Speaker 3
Maria, sort of building on off the last thing, one thing that I was trying to think of. Okay, what has changed over the past ten years and what therefore what I think will continue to change? And this is sort of go on the topic of the perishability of knowledge. I think the role of data analytics. I think the amount of data that we have now on consumers and purchasing intent and everything. I mean, the data, even in fields that 1015 20 years ago were not data driven fields like maybe HR or marketing or branding. We’re living in an age now where there is just so much data available that can be cheaply collected. Right. A long time ago, if you wanted to do a market research study where you were looking at $20,000 to recruit the participants and have the focus group moderator sit in on. And now you just do like a ten cent quick online survey and you can start collecting tons of data. So I don’t think the specific tools I don’t think it’s really worth it necessarily for a school to devote a lot of energy teaching one specific data analytics tool over another.
[00:13:34.100] – Speaker 3
But I do think that now since data is so and it’s just going to keep growing in terms of availability, it’s so available and it will continue to grow in availability. I think teaching those fundamental concepts of what do you do with huge data sets, and how do you find the signal within the noise and all that stuff? I think that’s something that perhaps at least it certainly was not a focus when I was getting my MBA, and I think it’s just going to keep getting more and more important.
[00:13:58.010] – John
Yeah, that’s really true. I wonder if the new emphasis on recruiting diversity candidates is going to coincide with this test optional movement to lead to not the total demise of GMAT and GRE and Admissions, but more schools recognizing that. Look, if you’re sitting there at Harvard, Stanford, Ncata, London Business School, and you have a candidate who has an undergraduate engineering degree from Cal Poly, from Imperial, from MIT, from Georgia Tech, do you really have any doubts about that person’s quantitative abilities? Or if you have a person who is a CPA or Chartered Financial Accountant or other equivalent criteria that clearly demonstrates a person is not going to have a problem with the relatively simple quant in an MBA program? Do you really have to still require a GMAT or GRE? I’ve always said that if US news simply dropped that metric from their ranking, almost all schools would go test optional overnight. Now there is value in a GMAT or GRE for someone who maybe doesn’t have a great undergraduate GPA for whatever reason. It’s a way for them to demonstrate that they can do rigorous academics an MBA program, but by and large, it shouldn’t be one shoe fits all, because different candidates come with dramatically different backgrounds, many of which clearly demonstrate that they have the ability to do the client in a core curriculum.
[00:15:48.630] – John
What do you make of that, Maria? Do you think more school is going to get a test option on me right now? You have Michigan, you have MIT, you have Indiana, you have UVA, Darden, and you have Duke this year, among many others. But those are among more prominent schools that are test optional.
[00:16:08.400] – Speaker 3
Yeah, I would love to see more test optional just everywhere. Right. I think the tests, as we’ve talked about, can be really valuable for certain students, but there’s also no doubt that the more resources you have, the better you’re going to do. I’m not saying you have to have lots of resources to do well. But if you have more resources, you’ll probably do better than you would have otherwise done. And by resources, I mean the time to study a lot, the money to pay a tutor or to take an online course, that sort of thing. I think someone who has more resources is going to do better than if they didn’t. And so that, to me, is problematic. But then we also can’t go completely. We’re not even going to look at the test because you do need to be confident that when you put someone in your classroom or if you put someone in front of a recruiter that they’re not going to flail or embarrass themselves or the school in the process. I wish that there was a way to do, like, sort of an on the spot. This is why I’m such a huge fan of the Kia Talent interviews.
[00:17:10.570] – Speaker 3
Right. These are the quick. You don’t necessarily know. I think it defeats the purpose. Some of the schools tell you in advance what the question is, which is silly in my opinion. Like, what’s the point of the whole it’s a surprise party, but we’ve told you that it’s happening and where and when surprise look surprised. I know surprise. I’ve known about it for five months. But I think that when the schools use the Kira Talent platform well, and for people who may not be familiar with it, it’s a platform where as part of the application process, you log into a portal and it gives you say, three random questions and you get something like 30 seconds to think and 60 seconds to respond. Something like that where you’re getting a sense of who is this person on their feet, in the sense where because some people might study for the GMAT for three years and some people might study for three weeks, but on something like the Kira Talent platform, which would ostensibly make things a little bit more of an even playing field. So I would love for there to be more, like, spontaneous, and I don’t have the answer for what that is, but I would love for there to be some sort of more spontaneous, equal playing field types of assessments.
[00:18:12.910] – John
Yeah. And if you look at what’s happened to undergraduate education, the entire Ivy League now has made the Sat and the act test optional. In the vast majority of US schools, private and public, have made it test optional. And a lot of the argument here is socioeconomic arguments where if you come from a disadvantaged background, you’re less likely to score well on the test if you’re female, even though you get higher grades at College, both at the undergraduate and graduate level, you tend to score lower on these standardized tests. And unfortunately, because of rankings, they still tend to be over indexed in admission decisions. But to the extent that the undergraduate institutions have really taken a big lead on this, you got to think that it’s going to have an incredible impact on graduate admissions over the near term, next five to ten years, because you can’t achieve significant breakthroughs on the diversity side if you’re still over indexing GMAT and GRE scores. Caroline, I’m sure there’s a European perspective on this.
[00:19:27.390] – Caroline
I definitely think there is a role for test optionality, if that’s the right word. But I also think that sometimes the wrong candidates choose to go that route. Right. So sometimes people think that it’s a backdoor to get into the school, and I don’t have to show that I’ve got good academic credentials now to get into MIT, and that’s not the case. I definitely think there’s a role for that, and I welcome flexibility in the process. But unfortunately, what I sometimes see is that candidates think that there’s an easier way now to get into business school. And even though they could put the effort into getting a GMAT, now, they’re not going to do it and doesn’t necessarily help them. Right. So in some cases, candidates would just be better off putting that effort into taking the test and enhancing their profile, especially if the undergraduate track record isn’t set up. Right. Having a strong GMAT or good GRE can really help their case. And it hasn’t got easier to get into business school. Right. Because just because Garden or MIT or Duke offering some waivers, it doesn’t mean that it’s got easier to get in.
[00:20:52.290] – Caroline
And so I think sometimes candidates sort of misread that situation.
[00:20:58.770] – John
Yes, that is true, because if a school makes a standardized test optional, it does not mean that they are diminishing their admission standards. It means that you have to prove in some other way that you can handle the quantum work in the core curriculum. You’re not just going to get a pass on the test, period. They’re looking for other evidence, and otherwise you won’t get a waiver. So it’s as simple as that. Any other ways in which we think business education is going to change, I wonder if the international schools are going to take an ever increasing part of the best applicants in the worldwide pool, or has that peaked? What’s your take on that, Caroline?
[00:21:45.280] – Caroline
Yeah, I think that it will become more of a global marketplace, talent in education. The Trump years were not favorable to that, as we know. Right. And so now there has been an increase in interest from international candidates, and so I think that will continue to be there will be more mobility at all levels in education at undergraduate and at graduate level. And so that’s great for the schools that get access to this wonderful diverse Atkin pool. And I think something else that we’re seeing is that more people want to secure their place at graduate business school earlier rather than later. And so I think there will be a growth of the two plus two programs where people can apply whilst they’re still in College, in their undergraduate programs and secure their place at a top school. And I think the specialized Masters will also grow because those are often programs that people can pursue straight out of undergrad. And I think that can be some serious competition for the MBA program that young people don’t necessarily want the uncertainty of going into the workforce with the hope of getting into a top school at a later date.
[00:23:02.990] – Caroline
If they can secure a place at a great school for an excellent program straight out of College, they may choose to do that and they may forego the MBA. We discussed recently how the Harvard Law School is doing so well and increased application has a higher application volume now than the business school. And I think that may be part of that trend that people are keen on securing their spot at business school as soon as possible. Right. And so if they’re not going straight into business school, then maybe they’re going straight into another school or another program.
[00:23:40.050] – John
Do you think we’re going to see more schools reach gender parity?
[00:23:43.890] – Caroline
I’m sure we will. I mean, we’re certainly heading in that direction and the schools have been striving for that for many years. So yeah, I’m sure we will. Wharton has obviously done very well there and I think the other schools will follow.
[00:23:59.730] – John
Yes, Maria, any thoughts on that?
[00:24:02.490] – Speaker 3
No, I think where the schools are more committed to reflecting not only what management ranks should ideally look like, but also acknowledging the fact that consumers and people with actual purchasing power, the faces of what those people are like is changing. And so it’s not just good from a social justice perspective, but it’s good. It just makes good business sense as well. So yeah, I expect it to continue as well.
[00:24:27.220] – John
All right. So as always, expect more change. You may not like it. I know many of us are creatures of habit and change is disturbing and disruptive, but it is a part of life and it will be a part of business education over the next five to ten years. So hey, Maria and Caroline, thank you so much again for your smart and intelligent perspectives and for all of you out there listening. Thanks for tuning in. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants. You’ve been listening to Business Casual, our weekly podcast.