Elite MBA Programs Scramble to Out-Build Each Other

Elite business schools are locked in an “arms race” of building bigger and more elaborate business campuses to recruit the best students and faculty and climb magazine rankings, says Yale School of Management finance professor Matthew Spiegel in a recent Bloomberg article exploring how Harvard Business School drives Yale and MIT Sloan‘s “edifice complex.”

In this case, Yale is keeping up with the Jones with a $180 million project designed by Lord Norman Foster, architect of London’s famed “Gherkin” building. The new SOM complex will open in 2013 and help level the playing field among top MBA programs.

“You can’t be in a dump if everyone else is in a spectacular building,” says dean Sharon Oster.

The fervor for high-profile expansion projects isn’t new. Bloomberg reports the trend took off after the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania opened its 324,000-square foot, $140 million Jon M. Huntsman Hall in 2002; ever since, rival business schools have scrambled to keep up.

For example:

  • University of Chicago opened its $125 million Harper Center in 2004
  • Ross School of Business opened a 270,000-square feet, $145 million building in 2009
  • MIT Sloan School of Management will open new facilities this year
  • Stanford Graduate School of Business will open the  $350 million Knight Management Center in 2011
  • Columbia Business School and Kellogg School of Management also have plans for new buildings in the works

New buildings mean more office space for faculty and more classrooms for profitable executive education programs, Bloomberg reports, and larger schools can also enroll more students, who pay as much as $80,000 per year in tuition, room and board and other expenses.

While a business school’s physical condition isn’t the most important consideration, “you do consider the facility, you do consider what school will allow you to access the latest technology,” says a prospective applicant from Los Angeles to Columbia, Stern School of Business and McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University.

But the real payoff comes from wealthy alumni, whose donations pave the way for these super structures. “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,” says Robert Dolan, dean of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

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