It was the first virtual graduation in the history of Harvard Business School
The COVID-19 pandemic forced b-schools across the nation to shift their courses online back in March. And following suit, many in-person events and functions had to be canceled only to be brought back in a virtual state.
At Harvard Business School, two primary admissions programs – the Summer Venture in Management Program (SVMP) and Peek Weekend—went virtual this summer due to the pandemic. Despite the fact that attendees didn’t meet in-person, the virtual gatherings still saw great success, according to an article by the HBS Newsroom.
“One silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic is that it provided an opportunity to expand virtual admissions events beyond what we thought was possible,” Kate Bennett, director of marketing for MBA Admissions at HBS, tells Newsroom. “We were able to reach a far higher number of prospective students—an unprecedented number of universities, majors, and interests—than in person, yet still in a high quality and meaningful way.”
VIRTUAL VENTURE IN MANAGEMENT
SVMP was launched nearly 38 years ago in an attempt to increase diversity at HBS. The program is a one-week residential education program for rising college seniors. Participants attend faculty-led class discussions on current management issues, analyze real-business cases, and work with morning study groups and classes to examine and debate their ideas through lively interaction with peers and faculty.
The goal of the program, according to Brook Dennard Rosser, assistant director of MBA Admissions and diversity outreach at HBS, is to ensure participants get a better understanding of the HBS MBA community and how an MBA can be applied to a variety of careers.
“I wanted this audience of college-age students, who are still thinking through who they are and who they want to become, to see that an MBA should be an option they consider in building out their educational toolkit,” Rosser tells Newsroom. “Business school may not be where they ultimately land, but it shouldn’t be because they didn’t know it was an option, or how it could be beneficial to their career trajectory.”
This year, the program was reimagined as the Virtual Venture in Management (VVM). VVM offered similar sessions and learnings as the in-person SVMP. However, officials dropped the rigorous application process, travel costs, and associated requirements that came with the in-person event.
This year’s VVM program saw 1,7000 registrants representing 399 universities across 47 states. 46% were first-generation college students. Students kicked off their first week with an introduction to the case method by studying the LeBron James case and gathered virtually on Zoom and Slack to participate in discussions, panels with SVMP and HBS alumni, and informational sessions facilitated by the MBA Admissions and Financial Aid team. The finale of the program featured a Zoom chat with singer Ciara and her husband, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson who offered words and wisdom and inspiration to participants.
VIRTUAL PEEK EXPERIENCE
Peek Weekend traditionally allows undergraduate students to take a peek into life as an HBS MBA student. Participants attend a weekend-long event by living on campus, participating in classes, and meeting students and alumni.
This year, Peek Weekend went online as the Virtual Peek Experience with 2,000 registrants including 32% first-generation college students and 10% community college students—groups underrepresented at graduate business schools. The Virtual Peek Experience included an informational Q&A session with HBS admissions officers, an introduction to the case method, and an interactive virtual version of the program’s most popular discussion; authentic leadership with Professor Scott Snook.
By removing travel cost barriers and physical capacity limitations, the Virtual Peek Experience was able to reach a wider pool of students interested in experience life at HBS as an MBA student.
“In-person Peek gave us the ability to create personal interactions that humanized our institution for undergraduates who might have not personally connected with us before,” Liz Hutchinson, MBA Admissions college outreach manager at HBS, tells Newsroom. “The Virtual Peek Experience gave us an opportunity to provide similar value to a much larger audience, which now has an affirming and thoughtful experience with the HBS brand, whether or not they choose to engage in the future.”
MBA students at IMD on a coffee break
The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing b-schools to overhaul their curriculum.
Andrew Jack, of Financial Times, recently spoke to b-school experts on how institutions are attempting to stay relevant in a post-COVID world.
Now more than ever, experts say b-schools need to convey their relevancy to prospective students.
“The best description of our age even before Covid was uncertainty,” Geoff Garrett, the new dean of the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, tells FT. “Now is a great time for business schools to demonstrate their relevance.”
To demonstrate relevancy some business schools have focused on adding more relevant course material.
Wharton Professor Mauro Guillén, a specialist in international strategy, will be teaching a course this fall on how different companies adapt in times of uncertainty. His case studies include companies like Spotify, which has pivoted its business model during the pandemic by developing its own podcasts.
“Students always want the most up-to-date material. They are expecting us to have material that’s relevant for what’s going on now,” Guillén tells FT. “We cannot teach the same stuff or we would be obsolete.”
Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business recently announced the launch of a new online MS in Business Analytics.
Paul Almeida, dean of McDonough, has made it a priority to focus on what’s next for the MBA education – even long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Back in 2017, Almeida had predicted that b-schools would fall behind if they failed to invest in new technology and new modes of delivery in order to stay relevant.
“We will see more small business schools in trouble,” he told P&Q. “The economics do not favor smaller institutions or institutions outside of large metropolitan centers. Business schools with less resources are going to find it hard to compete in an environment where you have to make investments in technology, in pedagogy, and even more than before, in new ways of learning and better ways of reaching out to organizations for career placements and internships.”
NEW SOCIETAL DEMANDS ON BUSINESS
Experts highlight a fundamental shift in business from a focus on shareholder return to broader responsibilities such as climate change and diversity – a shift that, according to Dezsö Horváth, dean of the Schulich School of Business in York, Canada, has well been underway since the 2008 financial crisis.
“We’re going to have a very different world which is much more focused on tolerance and on life, not just work and money,” he tells FT.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized this shift once again. And experts say there are new demands of how businesses operate within society.
“We will move to a new economic model in which business and society are more open to trade-offs between efficiency and resilience,” Paolo Surico, a professor at London Business School, tells FT. “Businesses will have a formidable challenge in changing their model to understand consumer demand and the new role of government with a bit less capitalism and a bit more state economy.”
If anything, this shift in business is forcing b-schools to reevaluate their curricula to ensure that what they’re teaching students is relevant for today and tomorrow.
“It has put the restructuring of supply chains, remote work and e-commerce on steroids,” Wharton Professor Guillén tells FT. “I don’t agree the world will be 100 percent different but we will have to run much faster because those trends will be so accelerated.”
A number of b-schools are waiving the GMAT as a requirement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, the Wisconsin School of Business, Rutgers Business School, and Northeastern University are among several B-schools that have gone test-optional, Business Insider reports.
HARDSHIPS OF THE PANDEMIC
A number of B-schools, such as The University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School, are offering test waivers for applicants directly affected by COVID-19.
“We understand that many people are experiencing hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic and that these challenges may be affecting your application plans and ability to take an exam due to testing center closures,” a statement by McCombs reads. “Due to the unprecedented circumstances, we are providing applicants who have been directly impacted by COVID-19, the opportunity to petition for a special test score exception.”
PUSH FOR MORE EQUALITY AND RELEVANCY
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly created a number of unprecedented circumstances.
And while dropping testing requirements will certainly make an MBA degree more attractive to prospective applicants, experts argue that admissions testing is actually deeply rooted in inequality.
“Testing in admissions has assessed not just what kids know, but the opportunities that they’ve had access to,” Michal Kurlaender, a professor of education policy at the University of California, tells NPR. “They reflect a lot of deep inequalities that we have in our system,” she says. “So, it means that when they’re used, they have to be used with incredible caution.”
In May, the University of California voted to phase out admissions testing requirements across several of its undergraduate campuses.
Experts say that if MBA programs want to stay relevant, institutions will need to rethink how they approach leadership and business in today’s world. Perhaps dropping standardized testing requirements is the first step.
“I didn’t take any classes on equality,” Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce, tells Fortune in 2019 of his MBA, “Or on sustainability. Or on stakeholderism…. The classes I took were on accounting, marketing, organizational behavior, leadership. That’s what business was. Well, that’s not what leadership and business is today.”
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