The (real) future of graduate management education

“Management is a practice, like medicine; and the model should have been the medical school, where the bulk of the teaching, especially the most important teaching of the M.D. in his or her residency, is performed by practitioner.” 

-Peter Drucker

In the Jan/Feb issue of Harvard Business Review, HBS dean Nitin Nohria says that the renowned business school is introducing “its biggest curriculum change in nearly 90 years.”  The change he describes relates to the school’s Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development program, which, beginning this year, will send all first-year students abroad to developing markets, to gain real-world experience with multinational or a local companies in the development of a new product or service offering.  The structure for the experiences has design notes taken from medicine – indeed, the article was entitled, “What Business Schools Can Learn from the Medical Profession.”  A key goal of the exercise involves what Nohria describes as “contextual humility… realizing that the plans they conceived back on campus will meet unanticipated obstacles in the field.”

Although the change is indeed quite radical, its implications may very well extend far beyond the curricular redesign itself.  Indeed, it indicates a recognition that education needs to happen in the context of real-world experience, rather than in respite from it.

To the most forward-thinking health systems, none of this will seem particularly revolutionary. Many already have leadership development programs in place, programs that are shaped by their organizations’ strategic goals and that evolve in response to environmental needs.  But it does raise an interesting question: if experience is so critical to management education, what is to stop employers, larger employers in particular, start their own degree-granting management programs?

The idea may not be as far-fetched as it sounds.  For decades, higher education costs have been rising faster than inflation.  Indeed they are one of the few sectors whose costs have risen even faster than those in healthcare.  It is a sector that is ripe for disruptive innovation.

Even if employers aren’t the disruptors, these trends will likely bring employers and graduate programs into closer dialog, to the benefit of students.  And in any case, the prospect of sending 900 students out to solve real-world problems in places that might not normally have access to their energy and talents is exciting indeed.

 

About Andrew Garman

Chief Executive Officer, NCHL; Professor, Health Systems Management Department, Rush University

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