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Chapter 1.2. A Model for Strategic Planning, Analyzing Cases and Decison Making

Chapter 1.3 Forest & Forest Case

Chapter 2. Influencing / Persuading

Chapter 3. Negotiating / Conflict Resolution

Chapter 4. Networking / Self Marketing

Chapter 5. Entrepreneuring / Venturing

Chapter 6. Business Plan Outline

Chapter 7. HBS Case Method Deprives Students of An Authentic Learning Experience

Chapter 8. Improving Your Ability to Recognize Business Opportunities

Chapter 9. Why Business Schools Need to Know What MBAs Want to Learn and How to Find Out

Chapter 10. What do MBAs Want and What Do They Get?

Chapter 11. Applying Services Marketing Concepts to the Administration of A Business School

Chapter 12. A Model of the Business School as A Developer of Achievers

Chapter 13. Obtaining More Options in Your 401(k) or 403 (b) Retirement Plan

Chapter 14. Breathe Slowly - Reduce Your Blood Pressure

Chapter 15. The Body Mass Index (BMI) Is Wrong



Chapter 9. Why Business Schools Need to Know What MBAs Want to Learn and How to Find Out

        If business schools want to maximize their prestige and funding, they must help their students to succeed in their business careers.  Many MBA students have valuable insights of what they need for success in business.  A survey for obtaining MBA’s ideas is described.  Results were surprising, but on closer examination, made sense.
        Business schools adapt their curricula to requirements defined by the AACSB and to needs expressed by employers.  The literature does not report any research aimed at discovering MBA students’ perceptions of their learning needs.  If the lack of such research reflects practice accurately, a grave injustice is being done to the students.  Furthermore, graduate business schools are not doing a good job of pursuing their own objectives.
    Why Business Schools Need to Know What MBAs Want to Learn
        The research I am presenting was based on three assumptions:
        1.    MBA students want to succeed in their business careers, either as corporate managers or as entrepreneurs.
        2.    The business school wants its students to be successful in their business careers.  The rationale for this assumption is that the school stands to gain a lot if alumni succeed because they:
               a)    Increase the prestige of the school.
               b)    Are able to give large gifts, especially if they succeed as entrepreneurs.
               c)    Are likely to offer desirable positions to future alumni of the school.
        3.     MBA students have valuable insights.  This is likely to be true if they have business experience and have had opportunities to observe how people succeed in business.
        These assumptions appeared to be eminently reasonable.  I have presented them to faculty colleagues and no one has disputed them.  My intention was to use information obtained from students about their learning needs to modify my teaching methods and to make the information and methodology available to those who are interested.
    Finding Out What MBA Students Want to Learn
        I conducted the study in September and October of 1999 at Pace University.  The business school, located in downtown Manhattan and suburban Westchester County enrolls 2000 MBA students.  Eighty percent of the students attend school part-time and work in the daytime in entry level and supervisory jobs mostly in finance and computing.  The school is AACSB accredited.
        Previously, I had done eight MBA exit surveys during the 1988-1993 time period.  These studies had revealed consistently that less than half of the graduating MBA students were willing to recommend the school’s MBA program to good friends.  The likely reason for the low level of satisfaction with the program was that students reported that most of the core courses were not valuable.  While courses in their major fields received higher ratings, there was room for improvement there also.  On the basis of these findings, the school made changes in the MBA curriculum and I made many changes in my teaching methods.  These changes aimed at helping students to develop interpersonal skills and in my courses to improve students’ ability to market themselves.
        During the Spring of 1999, the director of the MBA program asked me to conduct another exit survey to obtain information that might lead to further improvements in the MBA curriculum.  The exit survey was to be conducted during November-December 1999.
        In preparing the questionnaire for this exit survey, I reviewed previous student surveys, findings of an internal career planning task force, interviews with corporate recruiters, my personal experience in business at Mobil Oil and IBM, my consulting work, reports of 1,000 students over the previous 8 years for which they had interviewed 10,000 alumni, managers, executives, recruiters and headhunters and my reading of the school catalog, strategic plan, internal memos, and other university publications, as well as reading many books, journals, proceedings, magazines, newspapers and attendance at 17 professional and academic meetings.
        As I was completing design of the survey form for the exit survey, it occurred to me that the first page of the survey questionnaire could be administered productively to brand new MBA students to discover their perceived learning needs.  See Exhibit 9.1, which asks new MBA students to evaluate 16 abilities from the point of view of their value in helping them to maximize their success in business and with respect to the respondents’ perceived need for improvement.
    The Survey
        Questionnaires were distributed to instructors of the 16 sections of the first course that MBA’s take.  The covering letter, written by the director of the MBA program asked the instructors to administer the questionnaires as soon as possible.  A total of 310 usable questionnaires were returned within two weeks.  This represented an 82.2% response rate.  The questionnaires were tallied, some simple math was performed and the results are presented in Exhibit 9.2 and Exhibit 9.3.
        Exhibit 2 shows the averages of the data submitted by the respondents.  Exhibit 3 presents the same information ranked by Composite Index (sum of the “Valuable” and the “Need Improvement” averages).  The interpretation is that if the school wants to help its MBA students to succeed in business (the school’s mission statement says that it does) the school should help the MBA students to improve the abilities that they identify as most valuable and in which they require the most improvement.  The school should help students to improve the abilities shown in the top part of Exhibit 3:
        1.    To be able to recognize business opportunities.
        2.    To be able to solve business problems.
        3.    To market themselves skillfully.
        4.    To do a good job of giving oral presentations.
        Lower rated abilities were, in order:
        5.    Competence in an important business discipline.
        6.    Ability to apply theory to practice.
        7.    Ability to integrate global issues into business decisions.
        8.    Skill in resolving conflicts.
        9.    Skill in writing business reports.
        10.    Skill in directing the work of others.
        11.    Understanding of business areas outside your major.
        12.    Skill in starting your own business.
        13.    Ability to prioritize activities.
        14.    Ability to work well with people of diverse backgrounds.
        15.    Ability to develop spreadsheet models.
        16.    Ability to use the Internet.
        The lower ratings were caused either by low perceived value or by low perceived need for improvement, or both.  Many of the school’s MBA students have jobs that require heavy usage of computers so that they do not perceive a great need for improving their spreadsheet and Internet skills.  Some of them are professional web-site and systems designers.
    Recommendations to The School
        I made the following recommendations to the business school faculty (verbatim):
    First we should evaluate the results of this study:
    1.    Do our students’ evaluations make sense?  Should the Indexes of these particular four abilities be at the top?
    2.    If our students’ evaluations make sense, why is the AACSB emphasizing other abilities and giving light attention to our students’ top 4?
    3.    Furthermore, if our students’ estimates are based on good understanding of the business world and their needs for improvement, are we looking at a superb opportunity to do great deeds: vastly increasing the value of the school’s MBA degree, increasing our prestige, getting many more applications so we can be more selective and raise GMATs of incoming students, and in the future receive bigger gifts from more successful and grateful alumni?
        In my opinion, the answers to these questions are:
    1.    On reflection, yes and yes.  If a student does not improve in these 4, how useful will the others be?
    2.    The AACSB, in all their studies, do not ask the right questions, of the right people.
    3.    Yes, we are looking at a superb opportunity, a far greater opportunity than the ones discovered in the 1988-1993 exit surveys. 
    The final conclusion is that we should start helping our MBA students to improve the four abilities identified here.
    What About Undergraduate Students?
        I have administered the same questionnaire to several undergraduate classes.  The outcome was the same.  The top four categories were:
        1.    To be able to recognize business opportunities.
        2.    To be able to solve business problems.
        3.    To market themselves skillfully.
        4.    To do a good job of giving oral presentations.
    Recommendations to Readers of This Paper
            If readers of this paper want to increase the usefulness of their programs in helping their students to achieve success in their business careers, they should follow the procedure described here to discover their students’ learning needs and then they should make appropriate changes in curricula, teaching methods and teaching evaluation systems.
        If you need the questionnaire in MS Excel format, go to and click on the fourth item.


This Page was last update: Monday, February 20, 2006 at 5:46:00 PM
This page was originally posted: 9/25/2005; 7:33:30 PM.
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