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M.B.A. Programs Tackle Global Challenge

Recruiting more international students is key for increasingly global business schools.

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During the past year, premier M.B.A. programs, such as the one at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, have completely restructured their curricula around a global-centric model. And, while it's a long-established practice, more schools are sending students overseas to work for a few weeks at a time or for a semester as part of their international M.B.A. programs

While efforts like these are designed to help American business students better understand today's evolving global economy, much more needs to be done to fully integrate an international mindset into the culture of business schools, says Guy Pfeffermann, founder and CEO of the Global Business School Network, which is working with business schools in the hopes of accelerating their efforts to truly go global. 

For an impact that can be felt well beyond campus, top business schools need to bring in more students from emerging markets and developing countries, he says. After receiving an education, these students should return to the potentially fertile business markets in their home countries and help them bear fruit, either by starting companies or joining the faculty of local business schools. This, Pfeffermann surmises, will be the key to a true global business revolution. 

For now, however, the revolution is on hold, he says, as most schools are struggling to place enough international students back in small markets where they can make an impact. "Some will claim that globalization [at business schools] is taking place, but it's not," he says. 

[Read about curriculum changes at major M.B.A. programs.] 

Ultimately, the best way to incentivize students from developing countries to invest in an American business education and apply it back in their home country might come via a push from the corporate world, school officials say. At the University of California—Berkeley Haas School of Business, for instance, corporations such as Johnson & Johnson and Chevron have expressed increasing interest in Haas students who hail from smaller markets like Vietnam and who wish to return there after graduation. 

"They're coming to us saying, 'We're looking for people who are nationals in these countries—know the language, know the culture—who want to go back,'" says Abby Scott, executive director of M.B.A. career services at Haas. "We have recognized the student interest as well as the marketplace interest in connecting the populations [with] roles in emerging markets." 

Still, the school only sends about 20 percent of its M.B.A. graduates overseas, compared to the nearly 40 percent of the student body that comes from countries outside the United States. This statistic highlights Pfeffermann's point that there's still much work to be done in order for business programs to start giving more to the global market than they receive. "The pipeline is still bigger for students coming from international locations to the U.S. and staying than it is going the other direction," Scott says. 

In order for international students to stay in the United States after they graduate, they must find an employer willing to sponsor a work visa. For those who don't, many opt to take advantage of practical training programs that allow them to work in the United States for a year after they receive their M.B.A.. Many international students at the University of South Carolina Darla Moore School of Business, for instance, join multinational corporations after they graduate and use this year to work and train in the United States. Afterwards, their corporations send them overseas, but not necessarily back to their home country, says the school's dean, Hildy Teegen. 

[See which business schools have the most full-time international students.] 

Some schools are already trying to actively tap into talent in emerging markets. The University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School, for instance, is increasingly focused on recruiting students from developing countries, particularly those in Africa. Many students from developing countries in Africa and Asia currently opt to stay in the United States after they receive their M.B.A.s, in order to secure a job that allows them to pay off their typically high student loan debt, according to Kenan-Flagler's dean, James Dean. (Tuition for international students is $45,599 at the school.) Generally, international students aren't eligible for federal aid, so they usually have to pay full cost.