Wharton Revamps MBA Program

December 7, 2010

business man raising hand to ask a questionFor the first time in almost two decades, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, announced it would significantly restructure its MBA curriculum by fall 2012 to emphasize flexibility, analytics, ethics and communication.

According to Inside Higher Ed, the new program is the result of 18 months of research, including surveys from more than 2,000 students, alumni, recruiters and board members. The curriculum change was approved by 87 percent of Wharton School faculty members.

"There's a lot of research behind it," said Wharton's dean, Thomas S. Robertson. "What we were trying to understand was, going out 20 years, what the world and M.B.A. education should look like."

As reported in the school's press release, the new program will allow students greater customization and flexibility based on their backgrounds and experience. MBA students will be able to choose a "pathway for fulfillment" in one of six "content areas": finance and the global economy; ethical and legal responsibility; managing the global enterprise; understanding and serving customers; corporate reporting and control; and management of operations, innovation, information and decisions under uncertainty. Multiple courses will be offered within each area and students have the freedom to customize their class choices.

In light of the current financial crisis, Wharton will also strengthen its focus on analytics by increasing course content in microeconomics and statistics. In this case, the idea was to give MBA students the necessary tools to understand "risk, markets, and the role of government when markets fail".

The new curriculum will also emphasize leadership through required programs and course content on self-evaluation, ethical and legal responsibility and "soft skills" such as oral and written communication.

However, what is most unique about Wharton's new MBA program is a new commitment to offer a tuition-free executive education course to MBA graduates every seven years, reported Bloomberg Businessweek. The Wharton School is the first elite school to do this, said Dean Robertson.

"We can teach our students for today but that doesn't mean that 20 or 30 years from now--or even less--they won't need skills in another area," he said. According to Inside Higher Ed, Robertson called this new commitment to MBA graduates "a lifelong 'knowledge partnership'".

"It's a notion that, while we may do a good job of preparing students for the next few years, things are changing rapidly," explained Robertson. "They need to come back for job training."

Fortune Magazine noted that while Wharton has tweaked its curriculum over the years, this is the first major transformation since 1993-94 when then Dean Thomas Gerrity placed more of an emphasis on "people skills", creativity and innovation.

Many other business schools have also recently changed their MBA programs, including Stanford University and the University of California Berkeley, reported Bloomberg Businessweek. However, Dan LeClair, vice president and chief knowledge officer at the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, said Wharton's overhaul was the most ambitious.

"What makes it a bit unique is that the Wharton overhaul addresses a number of challenges that MBA programs have had over the years, sort of all-in-one-big-swoop, as opposed to focusing on one particular challenge as other schools have done," said LeClair. "It's typical Wharton in typical Wharton style. Only a school like Wharton could do this scale of change and address so many things all at once."

Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin


"Wharton Announces Enhancements to MBA Program Design Offering Increased Flexibility for Students and Unprecedented Commitment to Life-Long Education for MBA Graduates," wharton.upenn.edu, December 3, 2010

"Wharton Faculty Backs Curriculum Overhaul," businessweek.com, December 3, 2010, Alison Damast

"Wharton overhauls MBA program," management.fortune.cnn.com, December 6, 2010, John A. Byrne

"Wharton, Rebooted," insidehighered.com, December 7, 2010, Dan Berrett

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