Business School Curriculum

Business Schools Seek to Reinvigorate the MBA Using More Personalized Degree and Course Offerings

Just as the decline in the number of applicants to two-year, traditional MBA programs has spurred changes in the MBA delivery model, it has also incited innovation within graduate business school curriculums. Administrators and educators are working hard to ensure the MBA remains relevant to prospective students and employers alike. An article published earlier this year on, identified key trends within the MBA. In addition to changing program formats (increased use of online, flexible, and part-time programs) and an increase in shorter, specialized graduate management education programs, the article calls out two trends affecting the substance of the MBA: STEM designation and “breaking boundaries.”

The first trend, “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) designation, granted by the U.S. Government, can cover either the full-MBA degree or component programs within the MBA that have a strong emphasis on data, analytics, and quantitative skills. This designation is not only appealing due to the number of tech employers who are recruiting MBAs, but it also makes an MBA program more attractive to foreign students. The STEM designation means that program graduates are eligible for a work visa that allows them to remain in the U.S. for up to three years post-graduation as opposed to just one. The STEM designation also broadens the appeal of business school to a more diverse array of prospective students. In mid-September, Johns Hopkins was the latest school to announce that its MS in Marketing will be STEM designated starting in 2020. And there are many other programs with the designation throughout the country. Currently, the University of Rochester Simon Business School is the only one that has the designation for all specializations within the full-time MBA, but others including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Notre Dame Mendoza, and Duke Fuqua offer some certified specializations.

The second trend, “Breaking Boundaries” references programs that are challenging and expanding upon the traditional core business curriculum. Some programs are collapsing the core courses in finance, marketing, and communications into one interdisciplinary course. This allows students to obtain the information in a more organic and comprehensive way, as well as freeing up time for students to take additional electives within their areas of interest. MBA programs are also partnering with other academic departments at a greater rate to create cross-disciplinary degrees that appeal to employers and students who want to start working with a higher level of industry expertise. Michael Wiemer, senior vice president and chief officer of the Americas at the Association to Advance the Collegiate Schools of Business says, "The emerging demand is for shorter, condensed, and highly relevant offerings offered in a variety of convenient formats." In August, UT Austin’s Dell Medical School and McCombs Business School announced a partnership for the Master of Science in Health Care Transformation. Even more recently, HEC Paris announced the creation of a double-degree program along with the cooking school L’atelier des Chefs, as a direct response to increasing demand from its students for careers in the hospitality sector.

Further demonstrating business schools’ commitment to offering the most relevant curriculum, a Poets and Quants article published last week noted that in 2019 182 new courses are being offered across all top-25 ranked schools. This is an increase from 2017, when 21 of the top-25 schools offered 132 new courses. Ten of the top 25 schools are offering at least ten new courses, which is also higher than in 2017 (four). Dartmouth Tuck and Harvard have the highest number of new offerings at 13, followed by Columbia and Rice (12), Texas McCombs (11), and then Michigan Ross, Yale School of Management, NYU Stern, Chicago Booth, and Stanford GSB each with ten. The courses range in topics but include 20 with a focus on Data and/or Analytics, ten on AI and/or Machine Learning, 12 on Entrepreneurship, and ten on Tech. While, the majority of new course offerings fall within the more typical MBA disciplines of Management (22), Operations (21), Marketing (20), Strategy (20), or Finance (18), relatively few additions were categorized under traditional topics such as Economics (six), Accounting (four), and Real Estate (three).

These trends are very positive for prospective business students seeking to gain an increasingly personalized and beneficial degree. Anyone considering an MBA or other business degree should understand how the curriculum and structure of the program will support their short and long-term goals, keeping in mind the questions below:

  • If technology is an interest, does the school offer any STEM-designated programs or certifications?

  • How many credits are used on the core curriculum and how many are available for electives? When was the last time the school made updates to the core curriculum?

  • What certifications are offered by schools of interest? Which certifications might help you garner an interview, internship, or job at companies you’re interested in?

  • What relationships, certifications, or degree-programs exist with other academic disciplines? Are you able to take courses in other schools? What industry knowledge would help you to impress a recruiter in your desired field and is it attainable through the business school?

  • How many new courses are offered each year? Is the curriculum staying current with market trends, particularly in your areas of interest?