Paul Danos is dean of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.
The great business schools of the world have long traditions of putting groups of smart students together on campus with thought-leading professors and fostering a concentrated and intense period of learning. The campus and all of its trimmings is very important for that special chemistry to occur: One gets knowledge from a master, a new network of outstanding leaders, new inspiration and values, and takes deep dives into the inner-workings of a field with an expert. The prime example of that kind of learning experience is the classic two-year, full-time MBA program at a top business school.
On the other hand, there are many other forms of the MBA being offered in the world, with huge variations in location, format, quality, faculty contact, costs, time commitment, prerequisite experience, and much more.
While some of the great business schools do offer many of these variations on the classic theme, aided by improvements in distance-learning technology, there are two aspects of the "classic" MBA experience that set it apart from the rest.
First, the full-immersion program gives young men and women time to reflect on and reconsider their career paths. What is it worth to a medical professional, auditor, IT specialist, teacher, reporter, engineer, or analyst to, after five years of experience, be able to shift into a top management track? The value is nearly immeasurable. Every top school has provided thousands of graduates with an incredible array of new career options.
Second, what is it worth to a 27-year-old to befriend hundreds of the most promising young leaders who are all eager to be a supportive network, to say nothing of the thousands of loyal alumni in all phases of management leadership careers? The power of the network gestates on campus and blossoms for a lifetime.
There will undoubtedly be many variations on the basic MBA program themes, but I believe that as long as the quality of the classic program is continuously improved, a high percentage of the most promising young leaders will choose the top campus-based programs for the foreseeable future.