MBA Review Chairman on Wharton School’s Curricula Revamp

Professor Richard Shell, chairman of the Wharton School‘s MBA review committee and a professor of legal studies, business ethics and management, spoke to Marketplace’s Bob Moon earlier this week about the recent overhaul of the school’s MBA program.

Several top programs have undergone revamps in recent years—Yale School of Management, Stanford Graduate School of Business, UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, to name a few—in seeming response to the finger wagging directed at these institutions in the aftermath of the global financial meltdown.

When Moon asks whether the changes at Wharton School have come in response to a lack of public faith in the MBA grads behind the current economic situation, Shell explains the review process actually began in 2007 and was followed by a faculty survey with a formal committee assembled in 2009. “I would say the financial crisis informed what we were doing, but it wasn’t the cause of what we did,” Shell clarifies.

Contrary to a critique of business schools in general made by Johns Hopkins’ Carey Business School— “The MBA became a degree in methodology. We produced masters of financial engineering, people who didn’t have heart and soul”— Shell says the MBA program at Wharton School has always been a balance between the human skills of business as well as analytic skills.

“In our new curriculum, one of the things we did that I think does respond to that perception is we’ve doubled the amount of statistics and basic economics that we’re delivering to the students,” says Shell. Maybe some of what was missing was a real calibration of what risk really is, he adds.

“We need to make sure that the people making the decisions up on the top floor need to know what the people down on the bottom floor are doing when they invent some of these instruments that got us in trouble.”

The Wharton School has renewed its focus on globalization in this overhaul, which Shell says comes from research indicating that the global aspects of business have become the background of all business. That means its time to move students to overseas classes where they can get some “on the ground” perspective, rather than simply study these elements in a classroom.

Moon’s interview also covers one of the aspects of the revamp that has garnered much positive attention: free continuing executive education for MBA graduates. Shell explains that the Wharton School feels strongly about continuing education and “It really looked like a huge opportunity for us to lay the groundwork for a new model.”

Both lawyers and doctors have continuing education, Shell points out, so rather than having the only contact with alumni come through reunions, he says “We see this as a huge opportunity for our graduates to continue to refresh our knowledge and for them to continue to refresh us.”

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For further details of the Wharton School curriculum redesign and how it affects current and future students, read more here.

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