BEI Survey: What Tactics Are in the Engagement Playbook?

We continue our series on engagement in business schools with a look at the different tactics that are used by schools to engage various stakeholders as well as how successful these different tactics are at enhancing engagement. Recall from the first installment of survey results, we conceptualized engagement as the amount of time, energy, resources, commitment and enthusiasm business school stakeholders devote to participating in graduate management education. This definition immediately recognizes that all engagement tactics require investments of time and resources, whether they are psychological, physical or financial in nature. Like any investment, then, we can assume that when business schools seek to engage stakeholder groups they likely consider the degree to which a given tactic will net a particular level of return. To gain deeper insight into this notion, we explored the types of engagement tactics survey respondents consider deploying as well as how effective these tactics are believed to be.

As shown in Figure 1 below, over two-thirds of respondents indicated that they considered 8 of the 11 tactics listed. This suggests a wide recognition that there are a variety of potential engagement tactics from which to choose and that these tactics are routinely considered. In terms of specific tactics, policymakers almost unanimously (91 percent) report considering classroom involvement of business professionals in non-adjunct faculty roles. On the other end of the spectrum, only 12 percent of respondents report having considered the idea of direct faculty training to promote student engagement.

Several of the findings are quite interesting to compare to results discussed in our previous installment and reveal areas of potential tension. For example, the uses of alumni-student networking and guest speaker series as engagement tactics were highly endorsed by over four-fifths of respondents. Yet, results from our prior report showed that external stakeholder groups such as these are currently among the least engaged groups at business schools today. In addition, the very low consideration of training faculty to promote student engagement stands in stark contrast to the previous finding that 95 percent of the same policymakers see faculty as the most critically important stakeholder group for building robust business school engagement. It appears that while there is broad recognition of the importance of faculty in stakeholder engagement, investments in direct interventions to promote such engagement are very often not even considered a viable option.

Finally, the figure also shows that just less than two-thirds of respondents indicate that they have not considered engaging students through cohort-based programs and alumni-assisted recruiting. In both of these cases, it’s quite possible that business schools see the resource requirements needed to engage via cohorts (particularly for part-time programs) and the involvement of alumni in recruiting as simply being too high to be offset by the benefits of high levels of stakeholder engagement.

Figure 1

Return on Tactical Investment

Speaking of the benefits and viability of particular engagement tactics, we also asked policymakers who reported using particular tactics to indicate each tactic’s overall level of effectiveness. While many of those who utilize certain tactics might see them as somewhat successful, we were most interested in the tactics that were judged as “highly successful.” These results are shown in Figure 2 below.

Here several contrasts seem to emerge when viewed against the data from Figure 1. First, it’s comforting to know that the most often considered tactic is also one that receives strong endorsement, with 42 percent of respondents reporting involving business professionals as being a highly successful tactic. Second, although many institutions see alumni-student networking as a common tactic to consider, less than one-quarter who use the tactic see it as highly effective. Third, while student business forums and professional development workshops are considered by nearly three-quarters of business schools, less than one-fifth of those that use these tactics indicate having strong success. Finally, and perhaps most interesting, are the findings that although only 60 percent of respondents consider cohort-based programs, those that actually use this tactic indicate that is has the strongest perceived return on investment with almost 45 percent deeming it highly successful.

Figure 2

Engagement Tactics versus Systems of Engagement

What stands out most from these analyses is that successful engagement may, like many resource investments, require sizable initial investments where the payoff may not be direct or immediate. For example, the use of cohort-based programs requires a high degree of maintenance, coordination, and time and energy. In the market for part-time graduate business school education, these factors are often exacerbated by students’ competing commitments that can exponentially increase the amount of coordination required for success. Yet, policymakers are clearly suggesting in our survey that if you can push through the initial investment drains, the return with respect to engagement is likely to pay off handsomely.

In addition, although we did not ask directly, what seems to be implied is a sense that while it’s interesting to examine individual tactics alone, it may be more appropriate to consider the effects of simultaneous deployment of these tactics. In the aggregate, the power of these tactics to engage various stakeholders likely starts to create a climate in which high degrees of engagement are simply part of the fabric of the business school. Offering a regular guest speaker series, for example, in and of itself arguably lacks significant “engagement luster.” In this sense, creating a bundle of a diverse engagement tactics that touch multiple aspects of a business school’s operations (e.g., admissions, recruitment, classroom, extra-curricular, alumni networking) is likely to create a system of engagement that is more robust than any single tactic. Yet, the choice to design and ultimately implement a bundle of engagement tactics must be considered in conjunction with the common barriers that business schools face when striving to have fully engaged faculty, students, alumni and business partners—barriers we will discuss in our next engagement survey installment.

Click below to read this survey report as a PDF.

Business Education Insider Survey 2 – Tactics for Engagement

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

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