The Evolution of the MBA

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In the few years following The Great Recession, a master's in business administration (MBA) was the last degree on anyone's mind. But in 2013, after three years of double-digit decline, the MBA's popularity began to return, and many of the country's highest ranked business schools noticed a boost in application volume. The Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University saw a 12 percent increase in applications to its full-time MBA program, while the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, and the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business reported increases of 11 percent, 10 percent, 9 percent, and 8 percent, respectively. In its recovery, however, the MBA has been transformed, and the degree that emerged after the economic downturn is an entirely different animal from its previous incarnation.

Markets wobbled during the recession, and as a result, many post-MBA positions were unusually volatile. Jobs in consulting and investment banking became uncertain, and, seeking a more secure future, many MBA graduates began looking to technology companies, which have recently enjoyed more steady success than financial institutions. Preparing students for a business career in the technology sector, however, is no easy feat.

"Technology is changing business education in fundamental ways, not only because it's affecting the industry, but also because of how it shapes students' interests," Doug Stayman, associate dean for MBA programs at the Johnson Graduate School, says. "In the industry, the digital economy is forcing companies to be flatter and move faster, and from the students' perspective, it is sparking new interest. They see that a young, small company can be bought for millions of dollars, and that's an exciting prospect," he explains.

As business opportunities at technology companies become increasingly lucrative, there is a growing need for professionals who can cross the tech-business divide. To help bridge the academic gap between business and technology, business schools have worked to refresh their MBA curricula and created new, cross-sector opportunities. Johnson, for example, has recently launched an additional MBA program at Cornell's new Tech campus. Now housed in the Google Building in Manhattan, the campus will eventually be constructed on New York City's Roosevelt Island.

The inaugural class of 40 begins instruction in May 2014 on Cornell's Ithaca campus, where they will study the foundations of business, in the context of the global digital economy. The program moves to New York City for two semesters, with students engaging in intensive forms of learning, including co-learning alongside students in the technical master's degree program. The focus is on learning content and applying learning to address real problems for businesses ranging from international corporations to entrepreneurial start-ups. "This MBA offering will be very focused on the digital economy, and it's going to be a heavily application-oriented program. There is a growing need for a fresh workforce that can contribute right away, work flexibly, and be highly tech-literate, and we're responding to this need with the New York City MBA," Stayman says.

This more nimble MBA offering, Stayman states, will help secure technology's place in modern business education, even for those students who don't necessarily want to work at a tech company. "The separation between the two is going away because technology has become so integral to the daily functions of an organization. Forget Google—that's a true 'tech' company. Look at 

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