After working for five years in California as a musical supervisor for film trailers, Nick Martin decided to tap into his analytical side at Texas Christian University's Neeley School of Business.
As part of his business school studies, he works as a digital marketing and advertising intern for a medical technology company, where he is being recruited for a position after he graduates. With his background, getting hired there was a long shot, he says. But his employers were impressed by how well he managed a market opportunity analysis students did for the company.
Administrators at Neeley and elsewhere are scrambling to find new ways to sharpen graduates' edge in a leaner, meaner business world. In some cases, change has been sweeping.
[Learn more about the job market for MBAs.]
The University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School rolled out a whole new plan last fall that allows students greater leeway to customize their studies within six "pathways," including Managing the Global Enterprise and Understanding and Serving Customers.
Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management will infuse its entire curriculum with four themes that cut across the traditional disciplines like accounting and marketing: innovation and entrepreneurship; private enterprise/public policy interface; markets and customers; and "architectures of collaboration."
Most institutions, like Neeley, are working within their existing curricula to allow students opportunities to specialize earlier, expanding offerings on entrepreneurship and innovation, and integrating experiential learning as well as more (and more sophisticated) ways to get a global perspective.
Schools are responding to new pressures to compete among themselves, too. Applications were down at nearly two thirds of the country's full-time MBA programs last year, according to a study last fall by the Graduate Management Admission Council.
"The increasingly competitive nature of the MBA landscape mandates that you are always on the leading edge," says Stacey Whitecotton, associate dean for MBA programs at Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business.
The new curriculum at W.P. Carey, which debuted last fall, still relies on core courses such as accounting, finance, and marketing as a foundation. But it now integrates more electives into the third and fourth quarters, so students can go after greater depth in their chosen areas before showing up for a summer internship.
Courses in entrepreneurship are becoming de rigueur in the elective mix. Entrepreneurship and innovation were wish list items that Raj Echambadi heard again and again when he polled employers and alumni of the University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign, where he is a professor of business administration and academic director of executive programs.