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M.B.A. Programs Go Global

Business programs of all sizes are weaving global lessons into their curriculum for all students.

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Business schools are being forced to rapidly adapt their curriculum, course structure, and philosophy in reaction to the increasingly global nature of the business world. Schools of all kinds, ranging from elite private institutions like the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania to smaller public institutions like the College of Charleston, are weaving a global focus into their traditional studies in an effort to prepare students for a business community where success is no longer measured on a domestic scale. 

For M.B.A. students, even if they're not on an international M.B.A. track, the shift means that their courses will change significantly at many schools. Those unwilling to approach their studies with a global mindset may find themselves left behind, business school officials say. "Our M.B.A. curriculum was specifically designed to reflect the reality of today's global business environment," says Alan Shao, dean of Charleston's School of Business. 

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The globally minded business schools are going beyond offering an international business program, sending students on global business immersion trips for a firsthand look, or placing a handful of graduates in jobs in the Far East or Europe, business school administrators say. Programs are now letting the global mindset govern their program's overarching philosophy inside the classroom as well. Wharton (ranked fifth in U.S. News's rankings of Best Business Schools) announced in December 2010 that it's placing greater emphasis on global business. The school will offer new areas of study including "Finance and the Global Economy" and "Managing the Global Enterprise" because it was forced to keep pace with the global business market, the school claims. "The architecture of the curriculum addresses the needs of a new global generation through flexibility, rigor, and innovation," Thomas S. Robertson, dean of the Wharton School said in a December press release.

The University of Arkansas Walton College of Business has made similar steps and is taking advantage of its proximity to a fertile international business area. The school is located near the headquarters of corporate giants Wal-Mart Stores and Tyson Foods. The firms rank first and 87th, respectively, on Fortune's annual rankings of the nation's largest companies and, because of the massive scope of their operations, the companies require managers and outside consultants to be able to think far beyond the borders of the United States. "These companies attract hundreds of vendor and consulting companies who office in our area and need employees with broad backgrounds in marketing, retail, finance, and logistics," says Marion Dunagan, assistant dean for graduate programs at Walton. "We find that, regardless of the chosen specialty, a global mindset is the key to success for our students. We believe that internationalization, like sustainability, cannot be a separate and distinct specialty area for our students but must be threaded throughout the curriculum, since little happens in business today that doesn't have a global connection of some sort." 

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Technology, of course, has been the catalyst for these new global-centric M.B.A. programs. Innovation has made the world smaller and will continue to do so. To keep pace, schools like New York University's Stern School of Business are integrating technology into their classrooms by making course materials available for students via the iPad while others are looking at technology from a larger scale. Babson College's Olin Graduate School of Business, for instance, is offering a new course on using technology to manage a global workforce and supply chain, which is an increasingly common, and increasingly complex, aspect of managing in the 21st century, says Raghu Tadepalli, Olin's dean. "When one throws in cultural and language issues in addition to distance and the lack of face-to-face interaction, then the managerial challenge grows exponentially," he says.