I’d like to think that business education should be about education more than business. It should be about leadership, perspective, and vision, more than about analysis, buzzwords, jobs, and salaries. But is it? Or is that just the kind of high-sounding stuff we write when looking back, years later?
I’ve seen two important pieces on higher education and business education in the last week, one questioning the idea of the MBA, the other questioning higher education in general. While the Harvard Business School writes about a glass half full in The Future of MBA Education, Seth Godin writes about what he calls The coming melt-down in higher education on his blog.
The Harvard post summarizes a new book called Rethinking the MBA, by David Garvin, Srikant Datar, and Partick Cullen. It’s about six cases of well-known business schools (including Stanford, my personal favorite) revising their programs to deal with a changing world. In the interview, Garvin says:
Yet rebalancing from the current focus on “knowing” or analytical knowledge to more of what we call “doing” (skills) and “being” (a sense of purpose and identity) must occur. Business schools need to think innovatively about how best to use the resources available to them. For example, there are many exciting opportunities to engage alumni in the learning process.
Seth Godin calls his bleak picture “as seen by a marketer.” He predicts “meltdown” in higher education for five reasons:
- Most colleges are organized to give an average education to average students.
- College has gotten expensive far faster than wages have gone up.
- The definition of ‘best’ is under siege.
- The correlation between a typical college degree and success is suspect.
- Accreditation isn’t the solution, it’s the problem.
He makes several very good points. This observation seems all too true:
College wasn’t originally designed to merely be a continuation of high school (but with more binge drinking). In many places, though, that’s what it has become. The data I’m seeing shows that a degree (from one of those famous schools, with or without a football team) doesn’t translate into significantly better career opportunities, a better job or more happiness than a degree from a cheaper institution.
In both cases, to me, it’s about confusing education with job training and job placement. If you measure success by average salaries and job placements, then as a society you substitute job training for education. The target is growth of the person, not growth of the income.
I have to admit that I started thinking about getting an MBA degree when my dad showed me a newspaper story about MBAs getting high-paying jobs. So now years later, I write about education first; but for me it was about changing careers, from journalist to business.
That worked for me. I did change jobs. However the real value, as I look back, was in the classroom, what I learned, much more than the step up to the next job. Years later, what I expect from somebody with an MBA degree is a better view of the whole business, from finance to marketing to operations, human resources, and so forth. You might work in one functional area, but you have basic understanding of the whole, not just your specific part. And you have a sense of what business analysis is like, how and when it’s useful.
Or at least, that’s what I hope. I’ve also posted on this blog my thoughts on what business schools can teach, what they don’t teach, and questions to ask before getting an MBA.