MBA News: Is Business School a Challenged Brand?

Business is changing, and with it, elite business education. As a recent article in the New York Times suggests, MBA students in the “data age” are seeking something more than traditional corporate strategy and finance. Increasingly, the business school brand seems to have fallen under the sway of Silicon Valley.

With MBA applicants reportedly shrinking by 1% in 2013 and applicants to graduate programs in computer science and mathematics growing by 11%, the article makes the case that business educators will need to seek out inventive ways of keeping apace with technology. More and more applicants to business school now possess undergraduate training in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. David B. Yoffie, a professor at Harvard Business School (HBS), has observed “an extraordinary change in the talent pool,” estimating that one-third of HBS’s incoming class of 900 MBA students have programming experience.

Cornell Tech in New York City is one example of a top-ranked school attempting to hybridize business with computer science. “Business schools are a legacy industry that is trying to adapt to a digital world,” explained an associate dean at the school. At the core of Cornell Tech’s innovative curriculum is a recognition that data-driven skills now hold relevance across industries.

A similar outlook has been adopted at other top-ranked programs in the United States with the introduction of dual-degree programs, entrepreneurship centers, start-up competitions, and digitally focused courses. Of the 150 elective courses offered at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) this year, for instance, 28% are new. “We’re responding to the best practices we see in the outside world like A/B testing and working with massive data sets,” commented Stanford GSB Dean Garth Saloner. “We’re adapting.”

Maintaining a competitive edge in the digital economy may demand a “pivot” toward hard technical skills, but as Greg Pass, chief entrepreneurial officer at Cornell Tech and former chief technology officer at Twitter, observes, demand also exists for “a more integrated, broader view of things.” Pass added that interdisciplinary MBA programs such as the one Cornell Tech offers are well positioned to “nurture people with those wider horizons, technical know-how and quick business reflexes,” according to the Times article.

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