A Q&A about how to move forward
Faced with the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19, we asked two deans from top business schools to describe the future of business education—and how to prepare for it. Both Paulo Goes, dean of the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona, and Sharon Matusik, dean of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder, agree that changes have been a long time coming. Here are their specific tactics for success in the post-COVID-19 era.
Dean, Eller College of Management
University of Arizona
Q: How has COVID-19 disrupted business education?
A: Even before COVID-19, technology forces of the so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution” were in motion to bring smart automation to all segments of the economy and society--and in the process, change the nature of business. COVID-19 has accelerated that digitization, quickly forcing all of us to rethink the concept of work. Now business schools are tasked with developing educational programs that will equip students, tomorrow’s workforce, for the new environment.
Q: How do we adjust our programs to meet the demands of the new work environment?
A: We must consider the changes that are happening with work, the workforce and the workplace.
Work will be more and more based on technology-human interactions. In our programs we have to stress the development and refinement of “human capabilities.” We need to generate broad and critical thinkers, problem solvers, risk takers, team players, and professionals with drive, empathy, and resilience, among other important human features. How do we do it? We need to experiment with and embrace experiential learning in many different ways. Partnerships with industry will be key.
The workforce concept has changed substantially. Hierarchical organizations are flattening. Work is contracted out, and the gig economy is already so prevalent. COVID-19 has also changed the concept of the workplace. Remote work will continue. In many industries it will be the norm. Like the business world, business schools will need to be flexible and adaptable to the new marketplace and its demand for online learning formats. COVID-19 has shown that it is possible to do a lot remotely and be efficient at it.
Q: How do we meet the needs of tomorrow’s working professionals?
A: Business school will have tremendous opportunities to do more with working professionals. In a rapidly changing world, working professionals will be looking to enhance their knowledge.
Working professionals will demand flexibility and access. Business schools will have to leverage remote learning and also create opportunities for extracurricular in-person, live interactions. Hybrid programs will proliferate, delivering a combination of remote and in-person experiences.
We also need to embrace the concept of lifelong learning and be able to combine non-degree programs with degree programs. There is a lot of talk about stackability through certificates, but universities, especially large public ones, still operate in the 20th Century with antiquated rules and restrictions.
Q: How will the traditional four-year business degree be different?
A: At the undergraduate level, we will all experience dramatic changes in the demand for traditional four-year college degrees. COVID-19 and its economic aftermath have started to affect how students and parents decide where to attend college. The so-called 2026 demographic cliff will bring a very competitive environment with reduced numbers of applicants and more tuition discounting.
I think business will still be a popular major, but we will have to be smart about how we compete. We will need to be more open to transfer students and community college pipelines. Offering programs and exciting opportunities that go well beyond classroom instruction will be key for the needed differentiation, including experiential learning, professional development and alumni connections. It will be about the experience and the preparation for the new business world.
Q: What are you doing now to prepare for the business school landscape post-COVID-19?
A: We are moving toward our own implementation of the concepts I described at the graduate level. I believe that our success overall as a business school relies on the success of graduate programs and how we serve the population of working professionals by being flexible and market-driven. That demand will only grow.
We are taking our successful online MBA program and transforming it into a growth platform in the following ways: (1) adding exciting in-person, live components that are tailored for specific audiences, such as corporate partnerships or a specific industry like healthcare; (2) offering dual degrees and adjusting the online MBA curriculum to allow students to complete both an MBA and a MS degree in two years; and (3) designing and testing different ideas for lifelong learning.
For working professionals, we need to offer both breadth (honing those human capabilities) and depth in terms of deep expertise. We have to allow the students to choose where on that continuum they want to be, and also make sure they will keep coming back. It is a lifelong process.