Building a Better MBA: Tackling the “Big Questions” of the Future

Over the past two decades there has been an emergence of academic literature concerning what has been termed, the “business of business schools.” As any casual observer might attest, this literature contains numerous critiques of business schools. So virulent are some critiques that it led scholar Ben Arbaugh to quip, “a reader might begin to wonder whether business schools and their inhabitants can do anything well.”

As you might have guessed, this literature also contains a large body of work focused squarely on the MBA degree and degree programs. In conjunction with the 10th anniversary of the Academy of Management Learning and Education (AMLE) journal, Erich Dierdorff and I recently published a review of MBA-related research appearing in AMLE from 2002-2012.

In total, we reviewed 88 articles representing close to one-fifth of the research published over the ten year period. The large preponderance of articles (about 75 percent) concerned two major topics, curriculum and student learning and outcomes. The substantial focus on these areas is likely warranted. For example, consider GMAC’s annual large-scale survey research which finds that across a variety stakeholder groups (recruiters, students, alumni, faculty) issues of curriculum and student outcomes (i.e., knowledge/skills, career and economic consequences) are rated among the most important factors guiding enrollment decisions and overall satisfaction with MBA programs. Other important topical areas however, were grossly under examined by scholars including issues concerning student composition, educational climate, faculty teaching and program quality.

The table below reprinted from Rubin and Dierdorff (2013) presents the findings of the review (click to enlarge):

Table 1

Beyond summarizing this body of research, we took the opportunity to look toward the future by offering five “big questions” that remain in need of scholarly and practitioner attention to improve the MBA:

  1. What if we took MBA teaching effectiveness seriously?
  2. Can the MBA be professionalized?
  3. Can the science of learning enhance the MBA?
  4. How can educational quality be improved?
  5. Why pursue an MBA?

In future posts, we will tackle these big questions and invite comments and reactions.

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