US Management Education: Rigor vs. Relevance

The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times published a couple of interesting articles on the challenges faced by management education in the US. First article highlighted the degrading quality and rigor of undergraduate business programs and the other related story focused on the relevance of academically-qualified (PhD) faculty in business programs.

In a New York Times debate on the value of undergraduate business major, Professor Richard Arum, cited his research that business majors invest less than one hour a day in studying alone and hence he argues that “it is not surprising that business students show the lowest gains on measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication.”

While interest of students in pursuing business programs is increasing, the standards of quality are decreasing. Every fifth undergraduate student in the US majors in business and the GMAT scores of business majors are lower than other majors (average GMAT score for marketing major is 493 as compared to 544 for humanities major).

Professor Khurana also notes “To compensate for this diminished credibility with students, business schools have taken to hiring business practitioners, usually employing them as lecturers and adjuncts. And, while students may find the experiences of some of these accomplished but non-academically credentialed individuals interesting, there is little evidence that students are being offered a deep and challenging intellectual experience.”

In arguing against the requirement of PhD for business faculty, Professor James O’Toole of University of Denver says, “The most qualified person to teach someone who’s going to be a practicing manager or accountant…is not necessarily someone who has the best scholarly credentials.”

The key is to find the right balance between relevance (practical application) and rigor (research foundations). Without academically-qualified faculty the rigor of the program will be compromised, however, management education also needs to have a meaningful real-world experience.

Further, not every business school has to be research driven. It is important to recognize that there are various segments of institutions and hence their positioning and value offered is different. For, example Harvard has to prove its though leadership by research while DeVry’s Keller GSM does not claims or needs it’s faculty to deliver research. Thus, it makes perfect sense for an institution subscribing to research-based model to require PhD for B-school faculty, however, many other institutions may be fine with MBA graduate with work experience. AACSB requirements apart, we cannot ignore that research brings reputation and hence institutions aspiring to gain prestige instead of mass-enrollments, are compelled to focus on research.


Dr. Rahul Choudaha

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