TechStars, Y Combinator, edX, Coursera, General Assembly, Intelligent.ly, Boston Startup School — they’re all pieces to the puzzle. Take one accelerator, pair it with open education, and then fill in the gaps with community education and, suddenly, you have the death of the MBA. But, is it really that simple?
MassChallenge — the largest accelerator in the world — will be hosting 125 companies in 2012. As Harvard MBA candidate Adam Besvinick points out, however, “Even if there were three people per company at MassChallenge, those numbers don’t compare to one class at Harvard Business School or Columbia,” which run between 800 and 1,000 students. “In my section, alone, we had 27 countries represented out of 90 people.”
Being able to debate a topic with 90 people for three hours a day is something Besvinick’s found invaluable. “It makes you reconsider your values and opinions, which is something you can’t replicate in an accelerator,” where people are heads down, slaving away on their company. Although Besvinick finds the TechStars’ network to be “undervalued,” he still doesn’t think it compares to the network you’ll find at Harvard Business School or any other top MBA program.
And he’s not alone.
“Online education is a great supplement to a real degree program, but a degree from Stanford in computer science and completing computer science coursework on Coursera are apples and oranges,” says Zachary Karas, the founder of Wantcastr, who just recently received his MBA from Boston College.
Say what you will, but researchers have found that, when it comes to future earnings, where you go to college counts. And, if anything, what these additional programs have done is actually make business education stronger.
“The MBA isn’t going away,” says John Gallaugher, a professor of information systems at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. “The degree has always been fluid, and a number of forces are pressuring higher ed in what, I believe, will be very positive ways.”
Gallaugher claims that what we’re in is “a golden age of collegiate entrepreneurship,” and that what we’re about to see is “a rejuvenated phase of business education.” Professors have already started tweaking the traditional lecture, opting instead for peer-to-peer education or the “flipped classroom,” where instructions are delivered online, outside the classroom, while homework and group projects are brought inside the classroom.
“New learning tools will allow us to outsource lecture time spent on rote work, so we can have more applied learning by doing,” Gallaugher says, referring to more group work, “launching businesses and the like.”
Dennis Hanno, who will become Babson’s dean of the graduate school and vice provost of the college on July 1st, sees the opportunities as a chance to excel, as well. “They’ve created a much more competitive landscape for business education,” he says. “It has pushed schools to come up with a value proposition.”
Remarking on the “good old days,” Hanno claims everyone wanted to obtain an MBA, but that the curricula had become static. He admits that what we’re really starting to see now, however, is differentiation. Babson’s chosen to focus on entrepreneurship, because it offers a different value proposition, but it’s a value proposition Hanno says they’re “continuing to work on every single day.”
After two years of studying at Babson, MBA candidate Stephen Douglass, founder of Young Impact, claims the value he’s derived is clear. “I now have a truly global network of new friends, alumni and advisers,” he says. And although Douglass admits “you can piecemeal your MBA curriculum for the price of a Starbucks iced coffee and free Wi-Fi,” he brings up his life as a former NCAA gymnast:
I could spend hours watching videos of triple twisting double backflips, but if I’m going to actually try one of these gravity-defying skills, damn right I’m going to pay a trusted professional to be at my side to guide me through the drills, progressions and ultimate execution. It’s probably going to take a few teammates yelling in my face, too.
That, alone, could be worth the money behind getting your MBA. But others, like MIT Sloan alum Slava Menn, point to the experience more than the education as the key source of value.
Between classes and loans, Menn admits he owes MIT $150,000 for two years of education. Tack on what Menn calls “the opportunity cost of lost salary,” however, and that’s another $150,000 — totaling $300,000. He breaks it down by saying 20 percent of that value is education, noting his “good classes, mediocre classes and excellent classes,” and allots the other 80 percent of that value to experience.
Not only did he make lifelong friends, but he’s worked on two companies since graduating from MIT Sloan, where he met both of his co-founders. “Each is brilliant and has a complimentary skill set,” Menn says. “How much was that worth?”
Tom Eisenmann, professor of business administration in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School, also referenced what Menn referred to as “lost salary,” claiming that “as an entrepreneur, you can get a lot done on a startup during the two years of an MBA program.” How? Because those two years only equal 52 weeks, and although Eisenmann admits Harvard’s first-year curriculum might be more rigid, the second year is flexible, allowing students to take on academic projects that can move their products forward. Sure, with classes, you might not be able to accelerate as fast, but it depends on what your end goal is.
“You can get a bunch of stuff in an MBA program that might not be critical if all you want to do is start a company,” Eisenmann says, but it all goes back to value proposition. Eisenmann not only points to fellow professors as good resources, but also to a student’s peers. To Eisenmann, groups like Harvard Business School’s Startup Tribe isn’t only the Startup Tribe — “it’s a lifelong resource.”
Of course, not all MBA programs are created equally, but it’s not one or the other. It’s not your MBA or a combination of edX, TechStars and Intelligent.ly. As Ben Horowitz wrote, now that everyone’s convinced MBAs are useless, now might be the best time to hire them. This isn’t a zero-sum game. Tack on all the outside programs you want, but when you do, look to see how fast business schools try and change their curriculum.
College students might look to the fame of Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, claiming you really don’t need school to become a success. How much do you want to bet that whenever those two are described as dropouts, however, they’re described as “Harvard dropouts.” No matter in what context, the name still matters. Even in a world that glamorizes drop outs, where you go to school still counts.