Five Factors That Differentiate Business SchoolsPhillip Mixon | MBA Director in the Sorrell College of Business, Troy University
Today’s business education marketplace has approached the saturation point on competition.
Offering a vanilla curriculum provides little incentive for students and/or businesses to value the product produced by the school. Every program is fighting to get students’ and businesses’ attention. Schools now must differentiate themselves from the crowd. However, by making its own mark on the market, a school must maintain relations with its past, present and future.
In the following, I will attempt to provide five factors that will separate a school from the competitors in the marketplace.
The information revolution has made knowledge acquisition a dinosaur of education’s past. The education industry has become a skill acquisition industry. As such, the focus of a business school and the departments within should be able to provide the skills needed to succeed in the employment marketplace. For example, the graduates of a particular program should have a set of skills that are marketable. These skills should be transferable across a multitude of industries.
One mistake I believe is often made in skill acquisition education is the over-reliance on one particular piece of software or program. For example, the use of SAS for statistics. SAS is a wonderful program, but if employers have STATA, the skills acquired have little value to employers. In this example, my recommendation would be to focus on the statistics, not the software.
This is old advice with a new twist. Establishing partnerships with local, regional, national and/or international businesses can help a student get an advantage against another student in the marketplace; however, business schools should expand these partnerships.
One expansion would be to invite professionals from the partner organization to teach a course or set of courses that would count towards the students’ degree. To incentivize the business to participate in the program, the tuition from the courses could be used to pay the company for the employee’s time or to pay the employee directly. An example of this in practice: A company near my university sent two line managers to teach a junior-level operations management course. In a unique twist, the managers brought an actual production problem to their course and had students solve the issue. The company then implemented the best student plan and gave the three students on the winning project scholarships to finish their degrees. The company has now taught the course for two years and the students get real-world experience.
Study Abroad/Cultural Education
I hate this cliché, but it is true: We live in a global economy and, as such, students need to have experience dealing with other cultures and business practices. Other cultures have different standards and practices, which can lead to unfortunate outcomes if you’re not up to speed. For example, I recently made a trip to China to establish an academic partnership with a Chinese university worth millions in research funds and hundreds of student exchanges. At the opening dinner, alcohol was flowing freely, and unbeknown to me as the top official from my university, I was expected to participate in the festivities, which I did. The negotiations of the next day were dependent/determined at that dinner, the night before the discussion took place! I was lucky, but students should be aware of other cultures. This awareness should, if nothing else, require students to research other cultures and cultural practice before any global interaction.
One of the best assets of a business school is the graduates of the program in the business world. The alumni can relate the skills your students are gaining in school to their real-world application. Alumni also provide the bridge between businesses and students. For example, the accounting schools around the country are exceptional at maintaining the communication routes established with former students. These communications not only serve the student body. They also serve the business school with your alumni acting as unofficial ambassadors of the school.
Alumni should be involved in curriculum and program development. By doing this, a business school can continuously improve their courses, programs and, by extension, their future graduates.
Focus On Current Students
Do not make the cardinal mistake of ignoring the student you have trying to get the student that might enroll. A student’s educational experience is the best target on which to focus, for, if students are excited, they will become excellent graduates. The most important marketing tool a business school has is the students it produces in its programs.
Every business school must ask the question, “Do we want quality or quantity?” Quality graduates will produce the quantity of new recruits needed for a strong program.
Nothing said in the piece is prophetic, but these ideas are often overlooked by administrators and faculty alike in their pursuit of a business school’s goals. With these ideas business, schools can compete in the global marketplace for students. The competitive marketplace of business schools has created an incentive for administrators and faculty to demonstrate a willingness to change the status quo of education.