Dreaming for a Differing Form of Graduate Business Education - Learning The Theoretical Side of Business While Building One
April 20, 2010 at 11:13am
My dream for the College of Business here at SF State University, is to develop a truly new format of graduate business education where we create businesses as a fundamental aspect of a cohort-based system. In other words, you are with us for two years. Your mission is to master the theory of business while building a real, viable business. Upon graduation, we help you further by incubating the whole operation for no more than 3 years. In return, the company distributes private shares of the company (for both the University and the faculty/staff members who deliver the MBA). When you hit a home run, we all win. More details here: http://tinyurl.com/mydreamforMBAeducation
Currently, the model for Graduate Business education, particularly in the Executive MBA programs, has become stale, and mundane. Executive MBA programs are like Klenex is to facial tissue - they all basically do the same thing in just about the same way. If you think about the high school math teacher who has her class build an actual flying airplane in order to teach mathematics and physics, we have to ask ourselves, what's the equivalent in graduate business education. Answer: build a viable, functioning business.
The solution is to work with faculty members and students through a fully cohorted system to bond together students around building a business from soup to nuts. The main mission over the 22 months would be to go from germination to fruition, and using the principles taught in business schools to do it really well. To do this, we would need to create a grafted on foundation that pools the venture seed money, and stores the profits from winning businesses after they have gone public, and then feeds the whole program; from tuition to completion, and then on-to the incubation period post earning the MBA, on site. Similarly, we would, instead of paying our faculty and rewarding faculty in the traditional way, members of the faculty would earn private equity shares in the companies that emerge as a means of bonusing their efforts. In the end, the hope is that after we have had a few successful company launches, we would have enough equity built into the operation to shrink tuition rather than need to increase tuition (and eventually getting it down to zero to boost the ability of traditionally underrepresented students to the business pipeline). Prior to beginning this operation, we would need to secure a high quality faculty willing to work in such an etreprenueal program, and gather them together over a summer to help shape the curriculum. This new model has potential for breaking the frames by which we rigidly operate our MBA programs & will require some serious thinking through by the faculty. For the students, the program would begin with a week long retreat to establish a working foundation and germinate some quality ideas that the students will wrestle over the first term. They would then learn every aspect of business and weave that learning into the building of the business. Over time, they should thread together what they learn and in real time apply those learnings to the new operation, and upon completion of the program, actually launch the incoprorated organization. Graduates would move to a different location on the campus (preferably closely located to the classrooms and the faculty) and we would give them reduced rates for office space, access to faculty for board advisorship, and potentially use current students as interns in the more advanced companies to provide real working experience for students who are new to the program. This incubation period would not be an indefinite proposition, but would be extended for a minimum of three years, and a maximum of five as most businesses fail in the first five years. We would want to support them all the way through to the IPO, if we could.
Once a company goes IPO, you can see the potential for growth of the investment. It's time we tapped into the real world potential to link real businesses with graduate business education, and simultaneously change the model by which higher education operations are funded, and wean ourselves off of state support. More importantly, if we dedicate ourselves to forging new businesses, in green and/or sustainable industries, students would not only apply what they learn, but advance a whole new category of business development. Additionally, they would be adding new jobs to the market space.
I've already been talking this idea up with several faculty members. Many are intrigued and enticed, but seem to balk because of the current restrictions dictated by union contracts and how faculty are measured for success (ultimately, the peer reviewed journal article being the coin of the realm and the biggest yardstick for measuring success among faculty ranks). We would need to build the whole operation with a strategic plan at the outset, simultaneausly designing and constructing the back end infrastructure needed to support the endowment that works to sustain the program. We would need to have good viable conversations about how the curriculum would change and design an interactive and cross-disciplinary set of courses that actually served the end goal - helping students build a business, rather than remain stagnated in the silo driven culture of the discipline. Faculty would need to upgrade their teaching skills and work to incorporate business building into the mix. Lastly, we would need a legal team to review the contractual relationships so that they are clean, ethical, and fair to all involved to ensure that people are rewarded fairly, and as the businesses become successful, we put into place standards so that there is no temptation to suck the fund dry for personal gain. In the end, our mission would be to ensure that graduate business education is affordable (and ultimately free for all students), and applicable - which eventually be the true measure of a high quality business education - can you apply it in the real world and make it work?
I have been bending my mind around this idea since my early days working on my Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. The idea of venture capital is not new. What is new, is bending graduate level business curriculum around in such a way that we generate new businesses, and an alternative revenue generating stream that works to improve our over all operations. Think about it? Higher education organizations have been around for a very long time (Harvard being founded in the mid 1600s). What was the last organizational innovation that we have witnessed with how educational operations are run? It's time for a new, innovative and invigorating model.