Business School: Rapid Irrelevance?

Photo by gadgetdude, via FlickrThe Boston Globe published an interview with the new president of Babson College recently, and he said something that fairly shocked me.

“I’ve argued regularly over time that the content component of a business school curriculum is irrelevant within a decade,” said Leonard Schlesinger. “Now, I’d say it’s irrelevant within five years.”

Schlesinger is no dope. He has taught at Harvard Business School and he was vice chair and COO of Limited Brands. But five years?

I may the least qualified person on earth to offer thoughts about this. I didn’t go to business school. My formal education ended with my bachelor’s degree in English. Everything I know about business has come on my own, and on the job.

But what does Schlesinger’s estimate say about the business school education? Harvard’s two-year MBA tuition is about $78,000. Sure, it’s Harvard. But is that truly a good investment, when everything is dead meat after five years?

Maybe you get a better job with that MBA. Maybe the connections you make will last forever. I’m not one to argue, either way. But if Schlesinger is right, those claims will be harder and harder to make.

As a parent with two daughters entering college in the next four to six years, this issue is rapidly becoming personal. But it’s a question for all of us.

Colleges and universities once could charge whatever they wanted. Parents navigate this black box of a system with grants, scholarships and loans. Medical students finish medical school with up to $200,000 in debt, discouraging many from choosing lower-paying specialties that they might otherwise love.

This can’t last forever. The  cost revolution is hitting health care. It swamped the airlines 20 years ago. Education may be next. How will colleges and universities react?


4 thoughts on “Business School: Rapid Irrelevance?

  1. Great post. Of course, the answer to the problem Schlesinger has posed is to go back to school! I think this is actually a “designed obsolescence” play on his part — you have to go to business school to get those initial perks (MBA, network, better job), but you’d better come back every 5 years now (instead of 10) to burnish those skills. If most MBAs are Type A personalities, this is exactly the type of thing that might work.

    However, I agree entirely with the point about accountability in education. There have been studies challenging the assertion that a college degree means $1 million more in lifetime earnings. When you compare this with the lifetime earnings from putting the $40K or more in the bank, the $1M lifetime actually loses, and it’s a debatable point to begin with.

    One part of this is that not everything can be measured mathematically. There is a social value in education, an intrinsic worth. The more we try to measure it in test scores, increased salaries, and the like, the less focused we are on the students, the humanities, the arts, and the effort to live a rich and rewarding life.

  2. Terrific final point.
    In the long run, what my college education gave me were my friends, and my love of learning.

  3. Letters after your name don’t necessarily mean you know what you are talking about!

    I really liked this post, Frank. The older I get, and the more experienced I become, it is more and more evident that life-long learning is what sets professionals apart from their peers, whether or not they walk away with a pretty piece of paper. Education is hard work, and ultimately comes only from the investment of the individual of time, effort, and energy.

    Unless you are a scholar, I am starting to believe that getting and maintaining a certification is the better bet for most professions.

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