The Race for Bigger, Better Business Schools

Several schools are turning donations into sparkling new facilities to lure top M.B.A. students.

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A shiny new campus really does make a difference–even for business schools firmly ensconced at the top of the heap. Seeing a flawless, state-of-the-art facility, whether it's still in the conceptual phase or newly inaugurated, can inspire other donors and kick-start a lot more giving. Suddenly, people feel excited about the school again.

With all of the technological innovations currently taking place, an overhaul of facilities is vital to ensure that they are optimal for teaching, sharing, and learning. Beautiful campuses make excellent marketing tools as well.

The "arms race" to build bigger and better business schools inevitably attracts the brightest applicants and professors, and larger schools can enroll more students, who shell out more than $80,000 per year in tuition, room and board, and other expenses. With those figures in mind, competition between the schools is fierce. Let's just say that once the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business (as it was then known) unveiled its beautiful new campus in 2004, the pressure increased on Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management to do the same.

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

Anyone touring the top schools in the Chicago area could not help but notice a gaping difference between the two campuses. Chicago GSB just felt like a more fabulous place to learn, regardless of what the teachers were doing or saying. When entrepreneur David Booth made history with his mind-boggling gift of $300 million in 2008—still the largest gift to any business school in the world—the name change to Chicago Booth School of Business happened overnight … as did the university's cementing of its status as a premier institution for management education.

Stanford Graduate School of Business held the grand opening of its new $345 million campus, the Knight Management Center, just over a month ago. Construction of the new campus was spurred by a $105 million donation by Nike founder Philip Knight and changes in the M.B.A. curriculum that called for smaller class sizes, necessitating additional small classrooms.

Stanford also built the new center with the goal of earning the United States Green Building Council's LEED platinum level certification. Knight Center Program Director Kathleen Kavanaugh told The Stanford Daily that green facilities were a priority for educational reasons as well, in the hopes that students would carry environmental motivations into their careers.

Thanks to two significant donations late last year, the Yale School of Management is well positioned to keep up with the Joneses. The school received the largest gift in its history in December with a $50 million pledge from Yale College alumnus Edward (Ned) Evans, who died less than two weeks later. Construction of the SOM's new 4.25 acre, state-of-the-art campus will incorporate the latest in green construction materials and practices and will house high-tech classrooms, faculty offices, academic centers, and meeting spaces organized around a welcoming courtyard.

[See how M.B.A. programs are tackling a global challenge.]

The trend of mega donations spread to Harvard Business School last October, when it received the largest gift from an international donor in the school's 102-year history. A gift of $50 million from the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and the Tata Education and Development Trust, philanthropic arms of India's Tata Group, will fund a new academic and residential building on the Harvard Business School campus in Boston for participants in the school's Executive Education programs. The school hopes to break ground for the building, which will be named Tata Hall, later this year.

Columbia Business School also received a major cash infusion last October, marking the largest gift in its history. Alumnus Henry Kravis, cofounder of the private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, pledged $100 million to support the construction of the business school's new facilities, which are part of Columbia's long-term campus plan on several blocks of the old Manhattanville manufacturing zone.

While a business school's physical condition isn't the most important consideration for applicants, there's no denying the strong allure of facilities that provide access to the latest technology. But the real payoff comes from wealthy alumni, whose donations have paved the way for these super structures. Robert Dolan, who was dean of the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business when it opened a 270,000 square foot, $145 million building in 2009, said "The better the experience people have, the better they feel about the place, the more likely it will be that they would support it at some point."