Business schools face tougher times Colleges must practice what they preach, experts tell forum


Business schools talk a good game when it comes to corporate diversity, technology and flexibility -- but now they have to start playing that game in order to survive in a crowded higher-education market, experts told a Loyola College forum last week.

Since the heyday of the 1980s, when big Wall Street offers for top students were abundant, the market for MBA students has fallen by half. After a three-decade boom, the business-school business has matured a development that will require schools to push hard into niche markets like executive MBA programs and other mid-career programs, said Scott Cowen, dean of Case Western Reserve University's management school and president of the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business.

Complicating things further is the rise of for-profit training schools and in-house corporate training departments that can do much of what business schools do, said Mr. Cowen.

"Motorola has the technology to do everything we do better, faster and cheaper," Mr. Cowen said. "We've got to stretch our thinking further."

But business schools can be unbelievably averse to change. It took one seven years to design a new curriculum, Mr. Cowen said. And it took him 2 1/2 years to convince Case Western's faculty to make young academics wait longer before achieving tenure -- virtually a lifetime guarantee of a teaching post.

"If the Edsel were an academic department, it would still be here," he said.

Maryam Alavi, an information systems expert who teaches at the University of Maryland business school, said schools need to change the way they teach, because students will get more out of exercises where they participate and work with each other than out of lectures. And technology like video-conferencing and communications software can help business schools form alliances with other schools down the street or across the country, making it perfectly practical to assign a UM student to work jointly with a student in Arizona, she said.

Marquette University professor Thomas Bausch, a former AACSB president, said one answer is for schools, traditionally wary of being too commercial, to work closely with corporations in their home cities to develop midcareer training programs. "Designing programs for individual corporations is not evil," he said.

Morgan State University business school Dean Otis A. Thomas said business schools have to form alliances with other parts of their universities to sustain demand for business courses, especially at the undergraduate level.

Possible strategies include adding business minors at universities that haven't offered them, the better to round out the tTC education of business-bound students who choose to major in liberal arts, and stronger networking between schools and their alumni.

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