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There are two essential “R” words that graduate schools and students are wrestling with:



In a classic business school cartoon, Peter Beale, whose work appears in the Financial Times, captures two erstwhile MBA graduates:  “I left business school knowing all the answers.  They didn’t tell me the questions would change.”

There appears to be a three-way debate emerging regarding business school curriculum: the case study method popularized at Harvard Business School that focuses on the practical and the analytics; the “flight” simulator, game-style approach to analysis and strategy that is catching on with many younger graduate students; and finally a less popular but credible model based on the liberal arts approach that many MBA students received in undergraduate training.   This latter method is championed by David Bach, Ph.D., dean of graduate management programs at IE, the Madrid-based university that is attracting more attention with its redesigned MBA curriculum.


“The economic upheaval was a profoundly sobering experience on business schools.  Yet we continue to believe that we can and ought to teach our students by identifying what they need to know and then doling it out in digestible bits,” Dean Bach writes in a Financial Times Soapbox column in Monday’s editions.  

“Frame a challenge and then get out of the way!”  He writes that this is the best piece of advice regarding engaging senior executives in the classroom.

Dr. Bach attended high school in Germany where schools are apparently built on the belief that government ministries, universities and other schools divine what students should know now and in the future. 

As an undergraduate student at Yale, Dr. Bach (master’s and PhD from University of California at Berkley) received a learning jolt that stayed with him.  “My professors were the smartest and most knowledgeable people I had ever met, (they) cared about only one thing: what did we think?

“Albert Einstein called ‘the training of the mind… to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks’…” and should be compulsory for business school, he argues.

That approach may hold promise for healthcare graduate management programs given the enormous complexity of running a health system or hospital, and the rapidly changing revenue models that will emerge over the next 10-15 years.

Selecting the right school is only one challenge facing future graduate students.  The other, and perhaps more daunting, is the cost of the graduate degree.  Top-tier MBA programs like the ones offered at MIT, Harvard, Wharton, and Kellogg, for example, are very expensive. Harvard estimates the cost of an MBA for a single student is $84,000.  At Kellogg, the tuition is lower but after adding fees and living expenses, the cost is more than $79,000.  For some students, who relied on loans for both undergraduate and graduate degrees, they may be paying off the last of their loans about the time their children are ready to incur debt for their own education. Many people looking for a way to get student loans that can be paid off quickly and easily may want to take a look at the services of SoFi – their competitive rates, exclusive member benefits, and no fees are proving a popular combination for those wanting to worry less about finances and more about their degree.

So what is the return on investment?  That is an important question to ask. Will the expensive degree generate any more income in the first five years, than the run-of-the-mill good, but not great, public university? Is that extra income potential worth it?

Sometimes yes, or so goes the conventional wisdom, if you are pursuing a degree on Wall Street or a blue chip corporate job where starting incomes can be significantly higher. For graduate students in the healthcare arena, this is as much a personal brand management decision as one about the choice of schools since there is little evidence that an MBA from Harvard, Wharton or other high-flying business schools will command that much more money in the first five to 10 years in healthcare.

In a time where recent graduates must often have roommates  – sometimes mom and dad – to defer the cost of living while they search for work, the choice of a graduate school, regardless of the industrial sector, is a serious one to make.  

2011 John Gregory Self

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