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Friday, Aug 01, 2014
Commentary

Business schools need to throw away the rule book


Published:

A colleague from Yale School of Management recently penned an editorial in a BizEd magazine claiming business schools need to “rethink everything.”

I am a proud dean in a respected, forward-thinking business school. Of course I think that USF is a rising star when it comes to business education. But I agree with my colleague. Business schools need to change the way they do business.

Today’s students are not like previous generations. They don’t remember life before social media and an always-on world. In Beloit College’s annual “Mindset List” for this year’s crop of freshmen, it noted that when students see the word “Amazon,” they think of the website before the river. Thanks to GPS, students have never needed directions to get somewhere. This tech-savvy generation has always been able to plug into a USB port and bring electronic notebooks to class rather than paper ones.

Students are less tolerant of courses that are not perceived as relevant to their goal: obtaining a meaningful job. They can access massive open online courses in a variety of subjects from a variety of universities. They still want and need the traditional parts of business programs, but they expect more when they actually sit down — or log into — our classrooms.

Rethinking business education starts with bringing more executives into the classroom. Gone are the days of “death by PowerPoint.” This generation dislikes being passive recipients of information shared by a teacher, textbook, or presentation.

At USF, more mid-career and C-level executives are serving as guest lecturers and sharing their business challenges with students. We are engaging corporate partners and real-life cases to bring lessons alive. And 24-hour case competitions challenge teams of students to tackle real problems and present their solutions to their professors — and corporate executives.

Executives who launched their own business are sought-after guest speakers. A nationwide survey funded by the Kauffman Foundation reveals that millennials are enthusiastic about entrepreneurship: 54 percent of them want to start a business or have started one. By engaging struggling and successful entrepreneurs we not only nurture students’ entrepreneurial spirit but also foster the kind of thinking that intrapreneurs — people who think like entrepreneurs but work for traditional businesses — need to thrive.

Students expect a return on their b-school investment — largely measured by their ability to find a job. A recent study by Millennial Branding showed that, when asked about what they believe their college is lacking that would prepare them for the working world, 52 percent said access to paid internships, and 43 percent said people to mentor them. They conclude their degree program provides the technical training required to do the job, but they also need internships to help develop real-world skills and mentors to help make the connections needed to get the interview.

And they’re right. The National Association of Colleges and Employers 2013 Student Survey revealed that 63 percent of paid interns seeking employment received at least one job offer while only 37 percent of unpaid interns got an offer — and the numbers fell for those with no internship. The median starting salary for those with paid internships was $51,930; those with unpaid internships accepted offers in the mid-$30s.

We should not just suggest that students intern; we must seek out more paid internships to help students gain work experience. We must work with employers worldwide to make it possible for students to receive course credit for internships where they put their classroom lessons into play — as USF is doing with its Marketing Practicum.

Mentors help students learn how to network, help them navigate business etiquette, and help students understand what it means to be a professional. Last year, 100 percent of the graduating seniors paired with a mentor in USF’s Corporate Mentor Program had a job offer — in their area of study — within weeks of graduation. Our success rate for placing these students in jobs shows that we know how to run a successful mentoring program for a few hundred students. Every business student should have a professional mentor. We need more corporate support — volunteers and funding — to make that happen.

The groundswell of social media, cloud computing, and communications tools means that tomorrow’s managers will need the same “soft skills” needed in today’s workplace, most notably, clear, effective communication. They will need new skills, too, such as the ability to build camaraderie among specialists worldwide, people they may never meet in person. We must improve students’ ability to communicate across teams, cultures, and continents. We must strengthen their ability to sell themselves, their ideas, and their solutions to problems.

Programs such as USF’s Elevator Competition — where students have a one-minute elevator ride to sell themselves to a real hiring manager — illustrate our increased focus on this area. This program is operated in partnership with our BizComm Center to help students become better networkers, more efficient job seekers, and better communicators.

All of these things require strong industry-education partnerships. And when business schools forge strong alliances with corporate partners, everyone wins.

Students win as partnerships bring internships and mentors into their lives. They win when they work alongside faculty who use real-world corporate projects that help them discover what it takes to turn mountains of data into meaningful information. They win when they see how their education can help them get a job and contribute to a business.

Alliances give businesses a chance to examine a problem from a new viewpoint — that of scholars and students. Corporate partners win as partnerships allow business leaders to spot emerging talent and build relationships with researchers.

Educational institutions win as they gain a cadre of guest lecturers, research doors open up, and, in many cases, financial support follows to funds programs that tuition revenues do not support.

Business schools, employers, and students all win when the very companies that hire new graduates provide much-needed feedback on the skills that incoming hires lack and play a role in the reevaluation of academic programs. For instance, at USF, industry professionals in the IT world told us to focus less on programming and more on the data analysis and problem-solving skills that new hires need.

Business schools that do not rethink the way we educate a new generation will become irrelevant. We must change the way we do business — so that everyone wins.

Moez Limayen is dean of the University of South Florida’s College of Business.

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