Four years out from college, John quits his nine-to-five accounting job at the headquarters of a local grocery chain to begin his full-time MBA studies. The grocery chain has been his only employer and source of income since graduation.
John dreams of a brand manager position at a large consumer goods company. He leaves the labor force for two years (and the paycheck it produces) and returns to campus. He works to position himself for a summer internship in marketing and leans on a career services office to bring the right recruiters to campus. He assumes a lot of debt, studies hard, and crosses his fingers.
Also four years out of college, Jill works as a software developer in Silicon Valley for a technology shop with less than 200 employees. This is her third employer since college. Like her peers, jobs begin and end with the short life of the technology project for which she is hired.
Every other day, Jill works alone from home or collaborates with co-workers at local coffee shops. On the side, Jill earns money as a freelance website consultant. Jill is always networking – prospecting for her next job or consulting client.
Trained as an engineer, Jill knows formal management training will make her more competitive. Jill enrolls in a well-respected online MBA program, fits courses into her schedule, and continues her life – gaining more experience, building her network, and experimenting with new concepts she learns online.
What should business schools make of this contrast?
As technology innovations virtualize and horizontalize organizations, the population of Jills will grow and the population of Johns will shrink. For Jill, opportunities that present themselves in her network make difficult the sacrifice of a two-year residential MBA. An online MBA not only allows Jill to continue advancing her career and consulting, but her management learning accelerates because of the living laboratory for new business concepts offered by her job and side business.
If Jill leaves Silicon Valley to further her career, her MBA education does not skip a beat. The portability of the online MBA program matches the options for mobility she must sometimes exercise.
Jill does not need her MBA program to find recruiters for her, she networks and discovers opportunities just fine. She, though, needs a tech-savvy career coach to optimize her online presence, consolidate her personal brand, and improve the presentation of herself (both virtually and in person).
Jill’s needs, tradeoffs, and preferences challenge the traditional MBA model. The business schools that accept this as opportunity instead of threat become leaders in graduate management education’s next wave of innovative pedagogy. There will always be a market for the premium experience offered by residential MBA programs. Technology motivates business schools not only to offer online programs, but to improve curricula so that the value proposition of the traditional MBA is continuously insured.
Next up: Understanding the global free agent economy.
By Phil Powell, Faculty Chair of Kelley Direct