Stanford Graduate School of Business Adopts New Curriculum Model

Major changes in the content and delivery of management education through its MBA Program will be implemented in fall of 2007.

June 01, 2006

The faculty of the Stanford Graduate School of Business has overwhelmingly approved major changes in the content and delivery of management education through its MBA Program. At a May 24 meeting, the faculty voted on a detailed vision for the new curriculum, to be implemented in fall of 2007.

“This new educational model builds on the enormous advantage of our small size to create a high-touch, customized program, with a significant new faculty-student advising and placement component that will challenge every student to his or her fullest capability,” said Robert L. Joss, the Philip H. Knight Professor and Dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

An 11-person task force led by faculty member Garth Saloner recommended the curriculum changes after four months of study and extensive interviews with faculty, students, and alumni around the world. “These new ideas do not tweak at the margins; they aim to create a new, more global, and more engaging experience for students,” said Saloner, who is the Jeffrey S. Skoll Professor of Electronic Commerce, Strategic Management, and Economics. “To be sure, the fundamentals—finance, accounting, operations, marketing and strategy, organizational behavior, and economics—are still there. But the plan capitalizes on the School’s strategic choice to remain small, and it makes students think about what is necessary to good management from the first week they arrive here.”

“This is the most important thing that has happened at Stanford in my 27 years here,” said faculty member Jeffrey Pfeffer, a frequent critic of management education in general. “The concept is a complete restructuring of the educational process. Today, in a typical large, tiered classroom, students have too passive a role in their learning,” said Pfeffer, who is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the School. “This makes students more responsible for their education and potentially engages them more profoundly and more deeply.”

Four key elements characterize the Stanford MBA Program’s new educational model:

  1. A highly customized program
  2. A deeper, more engaging intellectual experience
  3. A more global curriculum
  4. Expanded leadership and communication development

First, the new curriculum will be customized to each student. After a common program in the first quarter, students will face no specific required courses, but rather a set of distribution requirements that will give them the breadth of knowledge a general manager requires. The suite of requirements will vary by pace, depth, and assumed knowledge in order to challenge every student regardless of past experience. Further, in some cases “flavors” of a given topic will be offered, so that students can tailor their curriculum to their career goals.

To take advantage of this flexibility, students will need good information and advice about the options available. The first quarter of studies will be devoted in large measure to this. Students will take courses that raise fundamental questions of managerial relevance and that point to where answers may be found. These courses will include Teams and Organizational Behavior, Strategic Leadership, Managerial Finance, and The Global Context of Management.

Students also will form an advising relationship with a member of the faculty. Aided by placement exams, the student and his or her advisor will craft an individual study plan. Students come to the MBA Program with extremely diverse academic and work experience and varying career goals. The new program will channel students into courses that will challenge and prepare them, regardless of their background.

Second, the new curriculum will foster a much deeper intellectual exploration of both broad and narrow subjects. This will begin in a fifth course, tentatively titled Critical Analytical Thinking, taken in the first quarter. In seminars of fewer than 20 people, students will examine issues that transcend any single function or discipline of management, such as: What responsibilities does a corporation have to society? When do markets perform well, and when do they perform poorly? When does it make sense to exercise discretion; when should relatively rigid rules govern behavior? Students will be taught to think and argue about such issues clearly, concisely, and analytically, setting the tone for the rest of the program.

Then, in satisfying distribution requirements and in general electives, students will be pressed to think across disciplines and functions. They will be encouraged to think deeply and on their own. Improved placement will engage students more effectively. A second-year fall schedule will feature intensive one-week seminars, in which students will delve into specific subjects. The School also plans to add to its complement of Bass Seminars, funded in part by a recent $30 million gift from Robert M. Bass, MBA ‘74. The seminars, as small as 10 people, move students beyond passive learning and into topics of their own choosing. Guided by supervising faculty members, students are largely responsible for creating the content of the seminars.

Third, the new plan calls for enhancements to the School’s global management curriculum. This begins with the first-quarter course on The Global Context of Management and proceeds in two ways: The School will continue to globalize its cases and course materials, and a global experience will be required of each student during his or her two years at the School. This can be fulfilled by a study trip, an international internship, an overseas service-learning trip, or a student exchange, such as the School’s new program with Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management in China. Finally, the new curriculum includes expanded leadership and communication development. The Strategic Leadership course will integrate strategy with leadership development and implementation. Critical Analytical Thinking will have as a major feature the honing of students’ written and oral communication skills. In a new capstone seminar near the end of the two years, students will synthesize what they have learned, examine strengths and weaknesses in their personal leadership style, and reflect on how they hope to achieve their goals as they embark on their careers. These seminars are expected to help students prepare for their jobs and for their careers.

“All this builds on the personal, collaborative nature of the Stanford MBA experience,” said Joss. “We have much work ahead of us. Taking this to a new level will require significant funding, a 5 to 10 percent increase in faculty, and ultimately, a new facility with flexible classrooms to accommodate more and smaller seminars.”

The School has developed a building proposal, which will be presented to the Stanford Board of Trustees in June. If accepted, the Business School will pursue a plan for new buildings on the Stanford University campus.

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