A New Era of Transformative GSB Education
Stanford Business, Fall 2023: Even as we respond to change, the GSB is following a distinct path.
Over the summer, Amy and I had the joy of attending the Taylor Swift concert at Levi’s Stadium with our daughter. The show was spectacular, a life experience. We walked out feeling a connection to Taylor, her music, and 68,000 fellow concertgoers — even though as our daughter observed, some of us did not know all the words.
The Eras Tour is not an obvious model for education. For one thing, the flashing lights would be a huge distraction in the classroom. And most faculty wouldn’t be keen on the costume changes. But the career-spanning tour provides a useful analogy: How can we stay true to what we do best and also reach more people?
The magic of a GSB education lives in the connections among students and faculty. Our MBA class is small compared to our peer schools. Our MSx and PhD programs are similarly intimate. Our student-to-faculty ratio is low. Through an alchemy of design and culture, our programs foster the type of discussion and mentoring that leads to transformational education.
At the same time, there are powerful arguments for expanding the GSB’s educational offerings.
Most important is the GSB’s mission of using our knowledge and ideas to educate principled, innovative leaders who will change the world.
Second, business education is changing. A growing and more diverse global population aspires to a professional career. Yet outside the top 20 schools, enrollments in U.S. MBA programs fell by about 40% over the last 20 years. People have many options to advance their careers and they can pursue education in more flexible ways.
I am confident that our MBA program, which has 14 or more applicants per seat, can attract exceptional talent far into the future. But it is not a time to be complacent. For us, these changes may offer more opportunity than challenge: They provide a chance to expand the reach and impact of the school, augmenting our core programs.
Of course, the GSB is already well down this path. During the summer, we run dozens of programs that provide rising and established business leaders with the opportunity to renew and expand their skills. When I walk around campus and talk with participants, I’m struck by how their thinking and aspirations can change in such a short program. For example, Eric Yuan talks about how a summer in the Stanford Executive Program (SEP) inspired him to start Zoom.
The pandemic spurred us to innovate in online education. We doubled the size of the cohorts in Stanford LEAD, finding that we were able to maintain the one-year program’s comradery and connection. We redesigned the Stanford Seed program that annually enrolls around 200 entrepreneurs across Africa and India. We’re using a blend of online and in-person teaching regularly, from SEP to our scaling program for Latino entrepreneurs.
This year, we are trying something new. We are offering a set of advanced elective classes for Stanford undergraduates. The goal is not to develop a business major; it is to enhance what students across majors are learning by teaching them how to put ideas into practice. We know from our own students who take classes across campus how powerful it is to combine domain knowledge with management, leadership, and entrepreneurship. It will surprise few GSB alumni that our new fall classes filled up fast.
Virtually every business school has responded to the changes in business education. Many now offer specialized degrees and hire separate instructors for executive teaching programs. We’re following a distinct path. We continue to teach general management and leadership. We only offer programs that our faculty are excited to design and teach. We expect our new programs to feed back into our core MBA and MSx programs as faculty experiment, learn, and develop new ideas.
It is often assumed that great educational institutions cannot expand educational opportunities and retain their core strengths. From what I have seen at the GSB, I don’t believe that is true.
Transformational learning and connection can happen in different time units and formats. Perhaps even in three spectacular hours, although maybe that’s just in our wildest dreams.
This letter from the dean was originally published in the print edition of Stanford Business in Fall 2023.