Some big news today in the MBA and e-learning world: Wharton has announced that it is creating a Specialization certificate through Coursera called “Business Foundations.” This specialization consists of a suite of online learning classes consisting of some of the core fundamentals of business which will be offered through a partnership with Coursera. Wharton has said it will bundle four courses along with an ending project and for certificates will be awarded to those who complete the class. The class will consist of:
Wharton’s been a major player in the online learning space. They have over 15 courses on coursera and over 50,000 people alone have completed one of the core foundation classes. What makes Wharton’s decision unique is that Wharton will offer the top 50 performers an opportunity to apply to the Wharton graduate school of their choice and will waive the application fee. They’ve also agreed to offer up to 5 $20,000 scholarships to students who enroll in the Full-Time MBA Program.
This is an interesting play because its perhaps the first Top MBA program to make a recruiting effort towards finding talent for their MBA program. There’s been a lot written on Wharton in the past year – they’ve had a lot of turnover within high-profile positions in their administration and the WSJ was pretty hash on them in a piece early last fall. However, I think this is a bold an innovative play to attract some talent that perhaps wasn’t on the radar. The beauty of e-learning is that it has no boundaries, and perhaps Wharton can uncover some more talent that they didn’t previously have access to. In some ways, I’d almost consider it a little bit of “content marketing”
The future of the online MBA?
There has been a huge debate in the MBA world over how top MBA programs should handle the online and e-learning revolution. Many schools, such as Indiana University (Kelley) and the University of North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler) were early adopters and created full online MBA programs and have jumped out to an early leader in this space. Others, such as Harvard Business School, have gone in a different direction by offering a paired back business fundamentals “Boot camp” aimed primarily at undergraduate degree holders who are looking to pick up business acumen. Last May, there was a fascinating article in the New York Times about what Harvard Business School should do about online education. On one side, was the Michael Porter, the father of what we know of as business strategy. On the other was Clayton Christensen, the famed professor of “Disruptive Innovation.” This debate is not just going on at HBS, Indiana or UNC, but most MBA programs across the world. Rich Lyons, the Dean at UC-Berkeley (Haas) said last year that “half of the business schools in this country could be out of business in 5 or 10 years.” While those numbers seem hyperbolic, I think he has a valid point, and I would not be surprised to see a significant amount (maybe not half, but significant) of schools cut back their Full or Part-Time MBA programs. Wake Forest just announced they were getting rid of their program last year. As a personal antidote, I had the opportunity recently to speak with a Dean of a Top 20 MBA program and after getting on the topic of the Online MBA I asked for their opinion on Dean Lyons’ quote. They told me they personally believed it was a matter of when (not if) his quote would come true.
Given this is a relatively new concept it will be interesting to see how other top MBA programs respond. Will others follow suit, or perhaps pursue a different direction? Will some continue to wait on the sidelines or will others jump in? Either way, the war for top MBA talent is heating up, and it looks like Wharton has a jumpstart in the race.