The Historical Evolution of Business Education

The roots of traditional graduate-level business education can be traced back to the early 1800s in Europe. Originally meant to teach skills in management and other various competencies in business administration, business schools have kept their reputation throughout most of history as being seen as the “golden ticket,” the key source of career advancement.

Of course, nothing has ever prospered without the challenges of a rapidly changing world. The needs and desires of students in 1819 are much different than the ones of professionals in today’s landscape, and with the business world becoming increasingly globalized, business schools have had to learn to adapt to these needs.

Let’s look at some of the ways the world of business schools is changing.

Photo by Andrew Neel

Flexibility is the Future

Many businesses and education programs migrated online during the COVID-19 pandemic, so many of us became used to online courses or only going into the office once a week or even once a month. GMAC reported that the normalizing of work-from-home environments during the pandemic led prospective students to consider continuing this trend by looking at online or hybrid options for furthering their education. In fact, according to a report from Carrington Crisp, as many as 39% of students prefer an online or hybrid model for their MBA programs.

While professionals have historically had to leave their careers for one to four years in order to complete an MBA, DBA, or PhD program, these programs in an online or hybrid format allow these professionals the option to continue their education without fully disrupting their careers.

Additionally, professionals pursuing a PhD can benefit from some form of distance learning by conducting their research using their existing local networks.

Personally, one of the main reasons I chose the hybrid IMBA program at the International School of Management was its flexible curriculum. My first week of the program was spent taking in-person classes and networking with other ISM students between Paris and Burgundy, and every week since then, I have been living, studying, and working remotely in the southwest of France, allowing me to surf in my free time.

It is not just the student side that is embracing this trend. According to research conducted by the Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy at Northeastern University, it was found that 71% of employers consider the caliber of online business degrees to be on par with or even superior to that of conventional programs.

Even with this trend, it is still important to address the concerns of prospective students considering an online program: limited networking opportunities. Some business schools have solved this by offering a hybrid model where in-person courses are condensed, giving their students the opportunity to travel to meet and network with each other several times a year.

With employers embracing online business education and students’ desire for flexibility, hybrid or online graduate-level programs are becoming increasingly attractive to professionals wanting to continue their business education.

New Approaches for Diverse Applicants

Another trend we will see going forward is the tendency for graduate schools to consider other factors besides traditional entry requirements. Chief strategy officer of Anthem, Byrony Winn, predicts that “in the future, schools will more heavily weigh MBA applicants’ life and multicultural experiences alongside more traditional admissions requirements, like test scores.” 

This is great news for a professional with several years of experience who finds it difficult to study for a GMAT amid a full-time career.

Nurturing Holistic Skills for Tomorrow's Business Leaders

In increasingly diversifying workplaces, today’s business leaders must be able to interact and connect with people of various backgrounds and cultures. This includes developing intrapersonal skills like self-awareness and self-reflection in addition to the traditional skillsets of business leaders.

Ronald Schellekens, executive vice president of PepsiCo states that MBA programs should emphasize skills including “emotional intelligence and empathetic, authentic leadership.”

Graduate programs must meet these needs by providing their students with courses and resources that help foster both intra- and interpersonal skills.

Embracing the Future of Graduate-Level Business Education

The future of graduate-level education is an exciting one. As we can see, the landscape is quickly transforming in response to students' ever-changing demands and aspirations and the dynamic business world. As these changes continue, it's clear that the future of business schools will embrace flexibility, inclusivity, and the development of well-rounded business professionals.

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