BEI Survey: What Keeps Part-Time MBA Programs from Innovating? Time, Money and…Faculty

As part of our Business Education Insider part-time MBA survey series, MBA policymakers 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 innovation was critical to maintaining quality programs. Yet, these stakeholders also indicated that such innovation occurs at a very slow pace.

Given all of the substantial forces disrupting business school programs, we asked part-time MBA policymakers to indicate barriers to change that are most heavily impacting their ability to innovate their programs. The figure below displays the percentage of respondents endorsing a given barrier as difficult to overcome.

A few things stand out. First, over 50 percent of the respondents indicated that a critical barrier to innovation is financial constraints. Not surprising perhaps, but financial constraints represent a difficult “chicken or egg” scenario: Improved financial resources often come from innovating new programs that drive enrollments, but innovating new programs that drive enrollments often requires financial investments in infrastructure and people.

Second, it’s clear that for many institutions (49 percent) facing resistance to change from stakeholders, such as faculty and students, along with navigating organizational politics (43 percent) and handling time constraints (45 percent) are barriers to change that may seem insurmountable at times.

Barriers to innovation graphBusiness as Usual

Most interesting, when we compare the forces that respondents indicate are driving innovation with those that are creating barriers to innovation, we are reminded of Kurt Lewin’s fields of force in organizational change. Lewin noted that change is often slow to evolve because organizational systems seek to maintain their status quo or equilibrium. That is, change is usually taking place in an environment of competing or opposing forces. For example, 55 percent of respondents indicated that external stakeholders such as alumni, recruiters and corporate advisors are pushing for program innovations, whereas internal stakeholders are pushing back against such change (49 percent). Similarly, faculty with expertise in a given area seem to drive innovation (53 percent), yet at the same time a lack of expertise seems be an obstacle (30 percent). Further, business schools see market opportunities for innovation (72 percent) as a key driver of change, but financial pressures (53 percent) are an impediment to pursuit of such opportunities.

What’s a Reform-Minded Dean to Do?

Administrators clearly see faculty stakeholders as a key barrier to innovation. As one of our respondents commented about his/her own school: “faculty have very stubbornly refused to change.”  Faculty may not want to admit to this observation, but with respect to innovation changes, administrators are largely correct. After all, it is the faculty and only the faculty who are responsible for executing most educationally relevant reforms (or lack thereof).

In Peter Navarro’s (2008: 119) view, “only those business schools with a ‘strong dean’ model may be able to overcome the institutional resistance of an entrenched faculty.” He suggests that business school deans who want to push an aggressive reform agenda must couple mandates to change with incentives that make reform more attractive. For example, if a dean wants faculty to develop curricula for a new program, participation on a curriculum committee must be viewed as an activity that furthers faculty careers—like considering such work as requisite to the tenure and promotion system. As Navarro notes, however, such a model must be supported by university-level administrators who are prepared for initial backlash and resistance and will offer continuing support for the dean’s work. And sometimes—as we recently uncovered—faculty are more on-board than one might think; a revolution is often just one key faculty member away.

Click below to read this survey report as a PDF.

Business Education Insider Survey 2 – Barriers to Innovation

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

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