As program director for the Executive MBA program, I speak to many prospective students, and field numerous questions about the program. Most of the inquiries have to do with the operations or outcomes of the program—the time commitment each week, the technology used for delivery, the cohort model, or ROI for the program, to name a few. I am surprised, however, by the questions that often don’t get asked:
- “Will I think differently as a result of this program?”
- “Will my colleagues view me differently?”
- “Will I form meaningful relationships with my cohort or instructors?”
- “Will I have the confidence to lead a major project when I’m done with the program?
For many applicants, pursuing an MBA degree is perceived as a relatively simple exchange—take these courses; receive your degree. However, there is a much more meaningful exchange that occurs at RIT.
There are hundreds of MBA programs in the U.S.—both on-campus and online, that can offer just that. Most deliver a basic core curriculum of management, finance, accounting, and marketing courses, and a sizeable majority offer specialty programs or concentrations. However, the basic offering remains essentially the same—a set of tools for the manager’s tool belt. The result is a hyper-competitive MBA market.
In this type of market, where potential students find it difficult to perceive real differences among programs, schools try to out-compete their rivals by acquiring similar resources and developing more, but generally similar, capabilities. However, this is a losing proposition for most schools. Michael Porter of Harvard Business School calls this “competition to be the best” since only a very few schools can be crowned “the best.”
At RIT, our Executive MBA program has taken a different approach. We give significant thought to the distinctive value we can deliver, adapting curriculum to industries’ demands, as well as to the type of students who would best benefit from our resources and capabilities. We thought our value was largely in the high-touch delivery of our program: small classes; smart, committed faculty; and a dedicated and innovative staff to deliver a friction-free Executive MBA experience. While we continue to believe that high-touch experience is unusual and does in fact create value, we’ve come to see that our distinctive value is in creating a meaningful MBA experience for our students, an M2BA, for short.
- A meaningful MBA provides more than a tool belt and some tools; you will learn to think differently about business as well as yourself. One graduate told us that, had he known earlier what he learned about himself during the program, he never would have taken his last job. Many of our graduates not only move to new positions, but also gain the personal insight and confidence to move to new industries.
- A meaningful MBA provides a crucible experience for curious students. It’s rigorous and intellectually rewarding. You will learn that tension and differing viewpoints among team members can be productive and positive, and that it’s not just okay to challenge someone’s position, but often necessary.
- Most MBA programs teach a basic set of skills. A meaningful MBA provides you multiple opportunities to apply theory to practice. There’s a world of difference between reading a case about consulting and actually negotiating a statement of work and then completing a messy, 24-week capstone project for a client. Coincidentally, employers increasingly tell us it’s not what students know that’s important, but what they know how to do.
- A meaningful MBA, especially an Executive MBA, provides you an opportunity to learn not only from your instructors, but from each other as well. As an experienced manager or executive, you want to engage with other individuals who have faced and addressed similar problems. This is a desirable attribute the Executive MBA program and one that we refer to as EMBA “fit.” We define this as the ability of a student to both contribute to, and benefit from, membership in a cohort and specific team for the duration of the program. This is as important as any other criterion in our admissions process.
- Finally, a meaningful MBA doesn’t happen by chance. It’s the successful outcome of a well-designed program whose curriculum, structure, and delivery all work together in a way that allows you to apply your learning right from the start, and to realize immediate returns on your investment.