Bauer College Dean Talks Future of the MBA

Published on April 25, 2017

Ramchand’s Presentation Closes AACSB International Conference and Meeting

Bauer College Dean Latha Ramchand says that business schools need to remain agile to adapt to students’ needs — “The traditional role of a business school as a finishing school needs to change to being a lifeline for learning and retooling.”

Bauer College Dean Latha Ramchand will present today at the AACSB International Conference and Meeting (ICAM) with University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Business Dean Jeffrey Brown at a session on the future of the MBA.

Their message underscores the need for MBA programs to make significant transformations in order to meet the changing needs of students and the industries they serve.

“For the last five or so years, business schools have been looking at, discussing and writing about changes and how to respond,” Ramchand said.

Ramchand noted that there was a 32 percent drop in the number of students taking the GMAT admissions test between 2012 and 2015 in the United States.

While that is partly due to economic conditions, she said, the drop also likely reflects generational changes among the current pool of potential MBA candidates. Many are not keen on waiting as long as their predecessors did before pursuing an advanced degree, and business schools have responded by offering programs that take less time and often are more targeted to a specific industry.

“The younger generation demographic needs a little more expertise in a specific area,” she said. Specialized master’s programs in accounting, finance, data analytics and other niche areas are a growing trend in recent years.

In addition to “bread-and-butter” business school education in areas like finance, accounting, marketing, information systems and human resources management, “we need to layer content that is unique to our faculty or the location we serve,” Ramchand said, citing Bauer’s Global Energy Executive MBA as an example.

Successful schools are innovating by redesigning curriculum and adding more soft skills to the curriculum, she said, as well as offering online components tailored to busy schedules.

They’re reacting to sweeping changes such as recruitment offers that come through things like hackathons and other alternatives to the traditional career fair — and looking for new ways of funneling the right talent to companies while growing students’ opportunities to innovate, she added, noting Bauer’s RED Labs technology accelerator program as a new initiative to that end.

Disruptive? Yes, Ramchand says, but in a good way.

“All of this leads to an opportunity to appreciate what’s happening out there and say, ‘What does the degree have to be to serve the market that’s out there?’ I think it’s all good for us. It forces us to be alert to capitalize on what we do that is unique.”

She added: “Technology is changing the way we live, play and work — the pace of change is rapid and this requires us to help our students learn how to learn. The half-life of their knowledge, skills and abilities is getting shorter, requiring lifelong learning agility. The traditional role of a business school as a finishing school needs to change to being a lifeline for learning and retooling.”

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business is the world’s largest business education network connecting students, academia, and business to advance business education worldwide. The 2017 conference in Houston is expected to draw more than 1,400 education leaders from around the world.

By Julie Bonnin