Are Bizschools Training the Wrong People the Wrong Ways?

What if we measured the effectiveness of education — any education — by the impact on human lives? What if we said an MBA degree isn't about earning power and recruiting, but thinking power and effectiveness and getting things done; by how many businesses we've started, or grown; by how many new jobs we've created; by how many houses our employees have purchased to live in with loved ones?

What if we measured education by how well we treated our fellow humans in the workplace, on the street, and in the home? Shouldn't that be a relevant scale?

Consider this, a great quote, in a business school context:

"It was our view that you need to think critically about what you are doing every 100 years or so, whether you need to or not."

That's Harvard Business School Dean Jay Light, as quoted — with tongue obviously in cheek — in Harvard Business School Discussed the Future of the MBA, on the HBS site. Yes, he meant to be ironic, and yes, the Harvard Business School is 100 years old this year. And, (third yes in a row), yes, a lot of business school leaders are looking critically at MBA programs. With depressing results.

For their research project, Datar and Garvin interviewed 30 deans and associate deans and roughly 100 students in large and small groups. They wrote case studies on MBA programs at Chicago, INSEAD, Stanford, Yale, and HBS, plus a case on the Center for Creative Leadership (all are available from Harvard Business Publishing); collected data on aggregate trends in MBA enrollments and program designs; and compiled a detailed curriculum analysis of eleven business school programs. To complete the picture, they also interviewed leading academic critics and 28 executives and recruiters. The findings presented a mixed diagnosis of the health of MBA programs, but on balance were, in the words of one HBS faculty member, "depressing."

Depressing, despite the fact that business schools worldwide are producing half a million MBAs every year, 150,000 of them in the United States.

And here's another interesting quote from that same post:

Henry Mintzberg of McGill University in Montreal devoted a book to his contention that "conventional MBA programs train the wrong people in the wrong ways with the wrong consequences."

It gets worse as you read on, even more depressing, except for the fact that these are a lot of the best schools putting their heads together and trying to figure this out. And that's not depressing, because critical thinking seems like a good step towards improving things. How do you teach business? And how, for that matter, do you measure the value of having been taught?

Here's one thing I know (or at least I'm sure of) about this subject: you don't measure the value of education by income. And you don't measure it by utility to employers.

And I'm still glad, about 30 years later, for my two years in business school. I liked the life we led as a family on campus, I liked the profs, I liked the classes, and those two years worked for me to pass me through the tunnel from journalism to building my own business. I wouldn't have missed it.

And on the other hand, I don't have much evidence that it's good for you, or the next person, or everybody.  It worked for me.


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