Major Changes Afoot at Top Business Schools

Harvard Business School and other highly ranked programs are revising their priorities and curricula.

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When Nitin Nohria was informed last May that he had been chosen to become the dean of Harvard Business School, he spent the summer doing his homework. As he explained in a speech this past October, Nohria spoke with HBS' 200-plus faculty members, as well as numerous students, alumni, and top business and educational leaders, who discussed their ideas and concerns for the future of HBS. Through these conversations, Nohria created five new priorities for the program.

That the new leader of one of the world's most esteemed M.B.A. programs is focusing on setting a new course points to a larger truth about the current b-school climate: The time has come for innovation and change.

[Get application advice from M.B.A. admissions officials.]

In the past few years, M.B.A. programs have faced criticism on many fronts. In the fallout from the 2008 economic crisis, many claimed that b-schools shouldered part of the blame for producing business leaders who are out of touch, corrupt, or just plain greedy. Others have pointed to the often exorbitant costs associated with attending business school and have wondered if the results justify the costs. For top U.S. programs, another concern is that the curricula aren't adequately preparing students for the increasingly global business environment.

Harvard is not the only program taking steps to respond to the widespread concerns and criticisms about the M.B.A. degree. In December, the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School announced plans to revamp its curriculum. Other top schools introducing significant curriculum and program changes include the Yale School of Management, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and the University of California—Berkeley's Haas School of Business

For HBS, Nohria's five new priorities are:

1. Curriculum innovation: While continuing to teach students using its famous case method, HBS will also introduce more opportunities for hands-on and field learning.

2. Intellectual ambition: Continuing its tradition of developing what Nohria called "the big ideas that have shaped the world of business scholarship, education, and practice," HBS will encourage faculty to develop important new ideas to solve today's business problems.

3. Internationalization: HBS will increase its global presence and continue to study prominent business cases outside of the U.S. (For the first time, more than half of the business cases studied last year at HBS involved non-U.S. companies.)

4. Inclusion: HBS will ensure that all members of its diverse community can fully thrive within the program.

5. Closer ties to the university: To facilitate cross-disciplinary studies, HBS will seek more partnerships with students and faculty from other Harvard departments.

[See U.S. News's rankings of Best Business Schools.]

So what do these changes mean for those of you applying to business school now or thinking about applying in the next few years? First, you'll be entering a b-school environment that prizes innovation and forward thinking more than ever, so you'll want to find ways to showcase these qualities on your application. Second, you should be staying informed about the changes being implemented at various programs. You likely already have an idea of what you want from your b-school experience; as programs introduce new initiatives and curriculum changes, the programs that can best serve your needs may shift, so keep up to speed with new developments.