The Race for Bigger, Better B-Schools

This post originally appeared on the U.S. News — Strictly Business blog

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, and enthusiastic about the learning possibilities and potential that exist in an educational institution. 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 their beautiful new campus in 2004, the pressure increased just a tad on Kellogg School of Management to do the same.

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 G. 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. Made possible in part by a gift of $105 million given by Nike founder Philip H. Knight in 2006, construction of the new campus came as a result of 2007 changes in the M.B.A. curriculum that called for smaller class sizes, necessitating smaller and more 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 hopes that students would carry environmental motivations into their careers.

Thanks to two significant donations late last year, 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) P. Evans, who died less than two weeks later. Construction of the SOM’s new 4.25 acre, state-of-the-art campus, designed by the famed architecture firm Foster + Partners, will incorporate the latest in green construction materials and practices and will house high-tech classrooms, faculty offices, academic centers, and student and meeting spaces organized around a welcoming courtyard.

Meanwhile, a donation of $10 million in November from Yale alum Wilbur L. Ross is slated for a state-of-the-art library facility supporting teaching and research. The SOM celebrated the groundbreaking of its new campus in late April and is scheduled to open in 2013.

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 entities 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, when it received the largest gift in its history. Alumnus Henry R. Kravis, co-founder 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. One of the business school’s two new buildings will be named The Henry R. Kravis Building in recognition of Kravis’s generosity.

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 feet, $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.”



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