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Schools revamp, refocus MBA programs

MBA letters

TEXT OF STORY

BOB MOON: The financial crisis, the global recession, might make you wonder: Just what have they been teaching at business schools lately? The people who put together MBA programs have been doing some learning of their own. Yale, Stanford, U.C. Berkeley and Johns Hopkins have all revamped their focus in the past few years. The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania is the latest to join the list.

Joining us is Professor Richard Shell. He's chairman of Wharton's MBA review committee, and a professor of legal studies, business ethics and management. Thanks for being with us.

RICHARD SHELL: Bob, thank you very much.

MOON: Professor Shell, this is the first time in 17 years that Wharton has revamped its curricula. I'm guessing that it's no coincidence that there's a real lack of public faith out there in the MBA grads who are behind the big economic mess we're in. Are these changes a response to us?

SHELL: Well, Bob, I wouldn't say that. We actually started the review process back in 2007 and then that was followed by a faculty survey. And so by the time my committee was appointed in 2009, we'd been at it for a couple years. So I would say the financial crisis informed what we were doing, but it wasn't the cause of what we did.

MOON: Well that having been said, let me read you a quick quote from the business school at Johns Hopkins. He said, "The MBA became a degree in methodology. We produced masters of financial engineering, people who didn't have heart and soul." Do you see any truth in that?

SHELL: Oh, boy. I really don't. Maybe it's because I teach law and ethics myself that I've always felt that the kinds of content that we've content that we deliver, in our MBA program at least, is sort of balance between the human skills of business as well as the analytic skills. In our new curriculum, one of the things we did that I think does respond to that perception is we've doubled the amount of statistics and basic economics that we're delivering to the students with the thought that maybe some of what was missing was a real calibration of what risk really is, and we need to make sure that the people making the decisions up on the top floor need to know what the people down no the bottom floor are doing when they invent some of these instruments that got us in trouble.

MOON: One of the areas that I notice you're going to put a renewed focus on on is globalization. Why now?

SHELL: What's happened that we noticed in our research is that the global aspects of business have become much more the background of all business. So at this point we're really looking to see how we can move some of our students in our classes overseas to actually be delivered a little bit more on the ground in some of these locations where business is done, rather than just study it in a classroom.

MOON: Another, what I would call real world change that I saw was this idea of tuition-free continuing education. Can you explain that?

SHELL: We feel very strongly about that. Lawyers have continuing education, that's a requirement of maintaining their license to practice law. Physicians have continuing education. It really looked like a huge opportunity for us to lay the groundwork for a new model. And instead of thinking of an MBA as something that you came, did for two years, and then the only other touch was reunions, we see this as a huge opportunity for our graduates to continue to refresh our knowledge and for them to continue to refresh us.

MOON: It's a recognition that in this day and age, people are bouncing between jobs all the time.

SHELL: All the time. The average time an MBA graduate is in their first job is 18 months. And most of them will go through at least four to six careers after they graduate. And all of those transitions are going to require them to know something that they didn't know when they left us. So business education begins with your MBA, but it doesn't end with your graduation.

MOON: Professor Richard Shell. He headed up the MBA review committee and teaches law, business ethics and management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Shell, good to talk to you.

SHELL: Thank you, Bob. It's been a pleasure.

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