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Business Schools Rethink Focus

Growing emphasis on pragmatic education

BUSINESS education - including the prestigious MBA (master of business administration) degree - is being spruced up at a growing number of colleges in the United States.The rejuvenation reflects public concerns about overseas competition, technological changes in the workplace, and the Wall Street scandals and business excesses of the 1980s - and whether colleges are adequately preparing students to grapple with complex ethical and professional challenges. Part of the change also relates to shifting demographics, as women and minorities take a larger role in the business world. "We're at the beginning of a major sea-change in management education," says Bill Laidlaw, executive vice president of the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) in St. Louis, Mo., the main accrediting agency for business schools in the US and Canada. Quantifying the full range of changes now under way is difficult; they vary from campus to campus, and are often couched in technical jargon. But experts agree that there is a growing emphasis on international business, technology management, interdisciplinary study, and most importantly, "operational education allowing students to solve actual problems within a corporate or business setting, or by working with business executives. What's increasingly "out:" academic programs geared to just a "theoretica l" knowledge of traditional business studies, such as marketing, finance, accounting, and management. "Rhetoric" has too often become the norm in management education, says Ronald Frank, dean of the Emory Business School in Atlanta. That is, business education has become so specialized that it is increasingly a language and pursuit apart from the day-to-day world of what's really happening within corporations, Dean Frank says. "The old way of management - the hierarchal approach - is dead," says B. Joseph White, dean of the University of Michigan School of Business Administration in Ann Arbor. There is an urgent need for managers to understand "how to empower their work forces" so that decisions are made expeditiously and intelligently on the shop floor. Michigan has modified its somewhat theoretical MBA program for a newer focus on business operations. Some seven weeks of classes were dumped. Instead, students are sent out into businesses to learn first-hand about what makes them tick. Other changes at Michigan: executive education - classes usually given to upper- or mid-level corporate managers - is now available to graduate students. And beginning MBA students are sent out into the community to learn about community problems. At Emory, the corporate setting comes directly to the students in the form of an increasing emphasis on cooperative programs involving major companies. Thus, Emory has already established one center, the "Center for Leadership and Career Studies," that relies on a partnership with industry. The Center has become a "crossroads" for top corporate leaders, who visit with students. Other centers are being planned, says Frank. Emory's MBA program uses a variety of teaching methods, including case studies, team or field projects, and computer simulations. Students also take courses outside the business area. At Yale School of Organization and Management, a graduate program, students are required to take nonbusiness courses. One unique twist: Yale seeks to link the private and public sectors. "You will not be an efficient manager if you see government as an alien organization," says Michael Levine, the school's dean. Thus, Yale management students learn about the organizational behavior of business - and within both the public and private sectors.

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