BEI Survey: Part-Time MBA Program Innovation More Evolutionary than Revolutionary

Much has been made about the need for innovation in graduate management education, from teaching students creative thinking skills that lead to innovation to innovating business schools themselves.

To date, most of the discussion has centered on full-time MBA programs (See AACSB’s innovation report) and a handful of anecdotal stories. But how is innovation viewed and implemented in part-time MBA programs?

With this in mind, The Business Education Insider surveyed part-time MBA program policymakers (directors, associate deans, assistant deans and program managers) at 47 U.S. business schools with medium to large size part-time MBA programs. Most of the programs are members of the Part-Time Affinity Group of the AACSB International-The Association to Advance Collegiate School of Business.

Key Questions

We asked these part-time MBA policymakers how important continuous innovation is to the overall quality of their programs. We also asked how often their schools typically engage in major changes to their part-time programs. Figure 1 shows the responses to these questions.

revised_Research-chartIt is clear that a large majority of respondents (more than 80 percent) consider continuous innovation very-to-extremely important to program quality. With regard to how frequently changes are made to their programs, however, two-thirds of the respondents indicated that changes occurred every three or more years. Furthermore, more than one quarter of respondents (29 percent) said changes only occurred once every four or more years.

Taken together, these findings suggest that while most business school administrators feel strongly that innovation is crucial to program success, changes to their programs are not necessarily made that often. This stands in contrast to most popular media articles that depict programs as engaging in continual innovation, suggesting that substantial revisions or renovations occur on year-to-year to basis.

It might be that the relatively longer cycle of innovation in part-time MBA programs is linked to particular forces that push or pull programmatic changes. With this in mind, we asked business school policymakers to indicate what factors influenced decisions to make changes to their programs. Figure 2 depicts the results of this question (each factor was rated on a five-point importance scale).

BEI-Research-chart_2Overall, respondents indicated that most of the factors shown in the graphic above held at least some influence on the need to change their part-time programs. The results also show there are factors that both push and pull programmatic change. For example, the top two rated influences with mean ratings above “very important” were market opportunities (pull) and changes in accreditation (push). Another factor that appears to push change is decreasing enrollments (mean rating = 3.95).

At the other end of the spectrum, program policymakers largely felt that movement in media rankings, such as U.S. World & News Report’s annual MBA rankings, mattered little in decisions to revise part-time programs. This latter finding is interesting when one considers that one well-documented result of “playing the rankings game” has been to revise current programs.

By and large, the results suggest that the primary catalyst of innovation in part-time MBA programs, whether push or pull, is largely economic in nature.

Click below to read this survey report as a PDF.

Business Education Insider Survey 1 – Innovation

By Erich C. Dierdorff and Robert S. Rubin, DePaul University Driehaus College of Business


  1. […] Insider part-time MBA survey series, MBA policy makers at 47 business schools were asked just how important continuous innovation is to their programs’ overall quality. More than 80 percent of respondents indicated that […]

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