Are MBA Schools Teaching More Practical Wisdom?

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After slowing for three straight years, business school applications surged in 2006, according to an annual survey conducted by the Graduate Management Admissions Council. The Economist contends the turnaround stems not only from a strengthening U.S. and world economy, but also from fundamental changes instituted by business schools in response to criticism earlier this decade.

For instance, the Yale School of Management last year switched from teaching functions like marketing and accounting to basing individuals course on a "theme," such as the customer, the employee, competitors, and investors. Yale attracted 2,798 applications to its business school this year, up 40 percent from three years ago.

At the same time, more schools are inviting business people to speak to students, present real-life problems that then get analyzed in the classroom, or influence their curricula in other ways. They're also devoting more attention to teaching ethics, the magazine says.

The real-life relevance of even newly revamped MBA programs is debatable. A February 2007 survey of global corporate executives by Egon Zehnder International found that only 24 percent of U.S. executives and 29 percent of their British counterparts saw an MBA from a top business school as "excellent and adequate preparation for a leadership position." Interestingly, 54 percent of the French executives and 45 percent of German executives agreed with the statement.

Many experts still believe that a top-10 MBA is valued less for its educational content than for the "stamp of approval" it confers to those who made it through the admissions process. "There is no substitute for being smart," says Roy Cohen, a New York career counselor, Five O'Clock Club Master Coach, and Columbia MBA holder. A degree from a top school creates the impression that a candidate is smart, he says, simply because he's been "vetted" by gaining admission to a very selective institution.

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