Creating Better Educational Institutions
post # 205 — October 4, 2006 — a General post
Both Stanford and Yale have recently announced new curricula for their business schools, and in both cases the reports Iâ€™ve seen suggest that both elite institutions have missed the point.
In both cases, what they have redesigned is the subject matter or course content of what they will study. However, itâ€™s not the content which develops you as a student. Reading about and discussing managing people doesnâ€™t make you any good at all at DOING it until you have had the chance to try it out in practice, with guided feedback.
Knowledge by itself is actually not whatâ€™s crucial in our success. Itâ€™s half-life is very short, and in todayâ€™s world knowledge is readily accessible for free. So any institution that tried to build its success on transmitting knowledge would be doomed to irrelevancy.
The key topics in education are not knowledge but two issues that straddle knowledge: ATTITUDES (which come before knowledge in determining your future) and SKILLS (meaning can you actually do anything.) Educational institutions do not give nearly enough thought to their power to shape attitudes and develop skills.
In this blog and elsewhere, weâ€™ve complained that people are badly prepared for work life and that our educational institutions are no up to the job we really need them to perform.
So, letâ€™s get constructive here. If you were going to design an educational institution that really prepared someone for a professional working career, and helped them develop the key skills, what elements would you put in place?
How would you design things so that we develop people with the right attitudes? What about expelling people with the wrong attitutdes?
Should educational institutions be either screening wrong attitude people or developing right attitude people? If so, how?
Similarly, what are the key skills that educational institutions should be building in people who are destined for professional work careers, and how can these skills be developed?
A couple of examples to get you started. When was the last time someone was expelled from an MBA program for being â€œnot very good at getting people to trust him/her?â€ If winning and earning trust is so key to success in life, why do we graduate people who cannot do it?
If honor and integrity are so important, why donâ€™t all educational institutions have and enforce an honor code (â€œI will not lie or cheat and will not tolerate those who do.â€)
If communicating is so important, why donâ€™t we give prizes to the people who have learned the most about their fellow studentsâ€™ (IE were the best listeners?)
Why donâ€™t we have special counseling programs for those students who seem unable to develop a circle of friends? (Not to help them socially, but to help them develop a crucial skill.)
OK everybody — letâ€™s get creative here. Letâ€™s offer some really good processes and practices for the educational institution truly designed to help prepare people for professional life. Ideas?
(By the way, this is not an idle exercize. As regular readers know, I gave a speech last Friday to 150 business school professors from central and eastern Europe. I have their email addresses. I PROMISE you they will receive the ideas you post here. Let’s change the world! )
Lance Dunkin said:
A few years of work experience should be required. (It would also help if the professors had industry experience or currently have some type side consulting role). This would allow discussions to flow from experience rather than pure academics.
An internship should be required between years. None of this year-round rushing through the program, but rather taking time off to apply principles from graduate courses.
There should be more electives and less required courses. Networking and part-time work should be given at least strong consideration for elective credit if it fits in the aims of the school’s goals (which I guess is partially what we are arguing. I don’t think credit should for managing/owning a hot dog stand if your emphasis is in corporate finance. However, if you are doing contracting in a potential career field—i.e. tax planning if you have an accounting emphasis—under the direction of a credible mentor this should be for credit).
Students should not work just for pay, however, as this would be a waste of their short time at a B-School. If they do decided to consult during the semester, they should be encouraged to consult in fields that will build their network and give them exposure to make a good decision on their career choice upon leaving B-School.
Students who have worked for a few years have a better understanding of the market and where they want their careers to go. It would be naive to think they have an understanding beyond a few years so they should still be subjected to some general studies to help them find a niche.
Yes, absolutely expel someone with the wrong attitude. Make this known upfront before they even apply. Most schools won’t expel because they don’t want to lose the tuition. So either accept a few more students than you want class size to be or don’t worry about the lost tuition—if you are weeding out those that wouldn’t make a contribution to your school it would be worth the cost. After the first semester start with those with a 4.0 (they usually only know their way from home to class to the library and home again). Find out who is meeting your standards and who is not (in regards to attitudes and skills).
To test for attitudes devise a means of finding out who has added to their network. What are they doing on the side? Do they have an internship lined up? How many of their classmates names and ambitions can come up with? How many professionals have they taken to lunch? What books/publications are they reading outside of course work? Etc, etc, etc.
Attitude is difficult to teach and there are probably enough students you can accept with good attitudes. Some schools make the mistake of too much focus on undergrad GPA and GMAT scores. These are great things in academia but less of an indicator than attitude in the world beyond B-School. Accept with certain standards on score but with more importance on attitude. Wasnâ€™t there another blog post about hiring for attitude/character? I wonâ€™t recreate it here.
It would probably be best to test for skills through their internships or other experience by having employers/clients rate them on criteria including working with others, advising clients, and outcomes of management situations they are placed in.
See Brigham Young University (http://honorcode.byu.edu/Honor_Code.htm). BYU ranked 2nd in WSJâ€™s poll for ethics.
In addition, require at least one ethics course. Even an ethical person can make a bad decision with long-lasting consequences if it is packaged the right way and with a short amount of time to make a decision. If a student takes and actively participates in ethics courses, however, he/she can learn to think ethically and to preempt bad decisions as he/she will make the decision years before it might be presented.
posted on October 4, 2006