At Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, New Era Awaits

The school may not realize all of its bold plans, but it deserves credit for trying.

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Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management recently announced sweeping changes designed to transform business education and thought leadership in the 21st century. As a Kellogg alumna, I was immediately intrigued. This new framework, billed as Envision Kellogg, follows an intensive 18-month, 360-degree assessment that involved hundreds of alumni, faculty, administrators, students, corporate partners, and others.

To keep pace with the global marketplace and prepare tomorrow's business leaders for what Dean Sally Blount calls the emerging "collaboration economy," Kellogg will refocus its energies to double or even triple enrollment in the one-year M.B.A. program while scaling back its full time, two-year program by as much as 25 percent. While applications to the full-time program dipped by 5.6 percent last year—a phenomenon felt by many top-tier programs—the one-year M.B.A. program, designed for those who have an undergraduate business degree, saw increased interest.

Shrinking the traditional M.B.A. program to the size it was circa 1995 is a move that makes the school less U.S.-centric, Blount tells The Economist, noting that 20-something students from China and India increasingly shun the idea of leaving the workforce for two years. "If you think your job is to give out two-year M.B.A.'s in the U.S., you are missing the boat," says the dean. "You have to be realistic about what the needs of the marketplace are when people are paying for their degrees."

[Learn more about studying in the United States.]

In an effort to better understand and adapt to this new world, Kellogg also plans an aggressive curriculum overhaul over the next two years that veers away from focusing on individual academic departments to concentrate on overarching concepts designed to cross all academic disciplines. These four so-called impact areas are: markets, customers, and growth; innovation and entrepreneurship; private enterprise/public policy interface; and "architectures of collaboration," which can be described as using technology to manage relationships with suppliers and customers.

[Learn about social media in the M.B.A. classroom.]

"It is an alternative model of general management education," Blount tells the blog Poets & Quants. "We've created these four impact areas because the problems businesses need to solve don't fall into a single disciplinary bucket anymore. We will reorganize how we do our research and what we have in our curriculum. We are trying to get out of this 20th Century, overly-siloed way of teaching business."

Also on the agenda: increasing the school's global footprint. Kellogg is poised to expand its presence in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) through new partnerships and short-term certification programs with Fundação Dom Cabral in Brazil and the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University in China, as well as deepen ties with the Indian School of Business.

[Check out U.S. News's World's Best Universities rankings.]

The boldest moves often come with detractors, and the planned transformation at Kellogg is no exception. Some critics worry that shifting focus to a one-year M.B.A. class will splinter the school's cohesive culture or jeopardize Kellogg's collegial spirit. As both an alumna and an admissions consultant, I don't see the move as a one-versus-two; rather, I see Kellogg shifting the makeup of the program to better fit the demands of the very strongest, high-potential students. These changes address different people with different needs and trajectories, but it's still one culture and one school.

Will it all work? Probably not, though the only way to know for sure is to try. The world is changing, business is changing, and schools need to constantly experiment and evolve. Having met Dean Blount, I would argue that her focus is very much on cementing Kellogg's No. 1 spot and doing so by not sticking with the status quo. Her energy, vision, and guts made quite an impression; she's not only in touch with where Kellogg is, what needs to stay the same, and what needs to change—she's also bold enough to go for it.