Babson College Overhauls M.B.A. Curriculum

The school has joined a list of prominent M.B.A. programs that have made significant changes.

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Babson College's Olin Graduate School of Business, consistently the top-ranked M.B.A. program for entrepreneurship by U.S.News & World Report, announced the launch this week of a new M.B.A. curriculum for fall 2011. Several top programs have undergone revamps in recent years—University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, Yale School of Management, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and UC—Berkeley's Haas School of Business, to name a few—seemingly in response to the finger wagging directed at these institutions in the aftermath of the global financial meltdown.

These changes aren't subtle, and are built around themes integral to today's business environment. In December 2010, for instance, Wharton announced it was altering its curriculum to better prepare its M.B.A. students for the increasingly global business world, and last spring, Berkeley reshaped its course offerings with a focus on molding innovative, but responsible, business leaders. While the changes at Babson echo these decisions, the school isn't straying from its entrepreneurial backbone; it's building upon it.

In addition to developing a common core curriculum, Babson has revised the structure and operations of the overall program with input from students, faculty, recruiters, and staff. Since business is constantly evolving, the school pledges to remain relevant with a regular renewal process; the entire M.B.A. experience will be reviewed again in June 2013.

"The curriculum is going to be infused with our trademark entrepreneurial thought and action," says Babson's dean, Raghu Tadepalli, in a video address explaining the changes. "We're also going to focus a great deal on issues of social responsibility, ethics, and sustainability."

Beginning this fall, Babson will offer a single M.B.A. program that is consistent across the 12-month, 24-month, evening, or blended onsite/online options. Students will take the same core courses with the same faculty and can choose from a common set of electives. As a result, Babson M.B.A. graduates, no matter their program, will emerge with the same skills and experiences with which to launch or propel their career.

[See how some business schools are reinventing the M.B.A.]

The new Babson M.B.A. focuses on three elements: preparing students to be entrepreneurial leaders, teaching them to be leaders in a collaborative workgroup, and helping students understand the role of technology in today's business landscape.

"We teach our students that in order to really become effective, you cannot wait for information," Tadepalli explains. "This notion of not waiting for opportunities, but really seizing [them] and indeed creating opportunities for oneself is what lies at the heart of what we teach."

Tomorrow's leaders need to master working in groups, particularly multicultural groups, says the dean, who adds that leadership is exercised through collaborative workgroup behavior. Students that know how to work in culturally and socially diverse groups will be better equipped to master the critical tasks of team motivation, selling their team on an idea, and eventually leading their team to well-set goals.

The third element that distinguishes Babson's new curriculum is the focus on teaching leaders who understand the role of technology in the business landscape. "Technology is the great equalizer," Tadepalli says. "If tomorrow's leaders don't understand how to use technology for their benefit, they're not going to be effective."

A hallmark of the new Babson M.B.A. is "Signature Learning Experiences" that put classroom theories into practice. Students will work with companies on real-life business cases so that graduates will be able to hit the ground running and make decisions in real time that have a real impact. Tadepalli says the purpose of signature learning experiences is "to take entrepreneurial thought and action, and issues of social responsibility, ethics and sustainability out of the classroom and get students to understand how they're applied in the real world."

Getting students to understand the importance of government and institutions is critical, Tadepalli believes. "In the most recent financial crisis, everybody asked one question: what is the government doing, what are the institutions doing?" says the dean. "Many times, M.B.A. programs do not prepare students to answer these questions."

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

Babson thinks it's on the right track with its emphasis on experiential education, teaching students the importance of government and institutions, and helping students understand the use of technology for exercising leadership with collaborative workgroups.

"I feel very confident we're doing a great job in terms of preparing our students to become entrepreneurial leaders for a world that is not just uncertain but increasingly unknowable," says Tadepalli. "We're going to teach our students how to not just take advantage of opportunities, but to create them."