The call for innovation in business education

By Kenneth Freeman
Allen Questrom Professor and Dean, Boston University Questrom School of Business
Also published in the Summer 2014 issue of People&Strategy

We are in the midst of a transformational age of information – and business education has fallen behind. Today’s business students enjoy networking capabilities that the last generation’s corporations would have envied, expect global outreach to be at their fingertips, and many of them care more about making a difference than about making money. Yet our institutions still use the same curriculum models that emerged in the business school heyday of the mid-twentieth century.

While the costs of education are higher than ever, the MBA degree no longer holds the same cachet for employers, who are interested in hiring graduates with a broader skill set. Full-time applicants for the MBA degree dropped steadily for four years in a row, dropping by 22 percent in 2012 alone (Korn, 2012).[1] This signals a great discrepancy between what graduate programs are offering and what employers and students are seeking. While graduate programs across the country face declining numbers, enrollment in undergraduate business programs is ballooning. At Boston University alone, we’ve seen an 87 percent increase in applications to the Questrom School of Business since 2010.

At this complex time in business higher education, business schools can not afford to be complacent about their place in academia.  Boston University Questrom School of Business just  turned 100 and we, and many other older business schools, didn’t get here by playing it safe. Longevity was hard-won by forerunners who created new paths forward. To succeed for a second century, we need to understand what businesses need from business schools, cast a critical eye on our long-established models, and use this upheaval to redefine and reestablish the value of a business education.

This isn’t a challenge we should tackle alone.  The big questions with massive impact on the future of business education deserve thoughtful input from all of our biggest customers and stakeholders: Chief Human Resource Officers, hiring managers and other employers of business school graduates, as well as leading scholars, researchers, students, and everyone who has an interest in business education.

To spark the next era of innovation in business education – and ensure that we are preparing graduates for a world that will continue to shift beneath their feet – we must bring together many voices.   That is why Boston University Questrom School of Business is partnering with IBM to present the Business Education Jam: Envisioning the Future. This sixty-hour virtual online event, from September 30 – October 2, 2014, is unprecedented in higher education.

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