I had the pleasure this week of interviewing Dr. Mark Rice, Murata Dean of F. W. Olin Graduate School of Business and the Jeffry A. Timmons Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at Babson College. We discussed a wide range of issues related to business education, the Babson MBA and specifically Babson’s Fast Track Program. Ths post is a summary of our Q&A, but be forewarned it is still a looong post.
To what do you attribute Babson’s excellent reputation in entrepreneurship? And given Babson’s renown in entrepreneurship, why do most of your graduates work in large corporations?
Let’s start out by reviewing the figures on Babson graduates: 15% typically start a company or work for a small company. Probably another 10% go to family firms. So 75% go to work in large companies. That represents a large proportion of the graduating class.
So why is Babson so renowned for entrepreneurship?
- Entrepreneurship is Babson’s strategic focus and distinguishing quality. It is THE strategic focus at Babson. If Harvard or Wharton or Stanford or any other top-ranked program stopped teaching entrepreneurship tomorrow, they would still excel in several other areas, but at Babson entrepreneurship is at the core of everything we do. The level of awareness and commitment to entrepreneurship is extraordinarily high.
- Babson has focused on entrepreneurship consistently for the last 25 years – starting 10-15 years before it became “popular” in the corporate world and at most business schools. We founded the Babson College Entrepreneurship Research Conference , the leading entrepreneurship conference in 1981. Since 1984 when we launched the Symposia for Entrepreneurship Educators (SEE we have trained almost 1300 academics and entrepreneurs from 407 academic institutions, government organizations, and foundations in 49 countries, to teach entrepreneurship combining theory and practice. More recently, w e partnered with London Business School to launch the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) and have since been joined by 40 countries in monitoring and evaluating the role of entrepreneurship in different economies.
- The faculty and administrative staff both reflect and nurture that entrepreneurial dedication.
With all this entrepreneurial education, why do 75% of Babson graduates go into the corporate world?
Most successful, mature corporations have departments devoted to new product development, new market development, new service development, and new business development. Consequently they also need staff to work in these areas and lead these initiatives, which create new ventures within existing enterprises. These departments require an entrepreneurial and innovative approach.
You can divide the activities of an existing enterprise into operations that maintain existing business and operations that pursue new business opportunities and markets. In a healthy organization tension exists between these departments – those operations that harvest the fruit of past entrepreneurial effort and those focused on the future – developing products, markets, and services for the future.
Entrepreneurship in established enterprises is really about discovering, developing and commercializing innovations, and it is in that sense that Babson trains MBAs to join existing corporations.
Why should highly qualified prospects, those who could possibly get into a top-10 school and are interested in entrepreneurship, consider attending Babson?
If the nature of the learning experience is not driving your decision, you should go to top-ten. If you are interested primarily in brand, credential, and network more than a learning experience dedicated to entrepreneurship and innovation, then you should go to a top-ten.
If the quality and focus of the learning environment are driving your decision on school choice, and you are interested in a program dedicated to teaching entrepreneurship and innovation – if that description fits you, then consider Babson.
Let’s turn our attention to your Fast Track Program. It appears that Fast Track is aimed at “career enhancers,” not “career changers.” Is that correct? If not, how does Fast Track work for those who want a career change?
Fast Track is not designed to serve either group. It is designed to serve working professionals. Working professionals — whether attending our Evening MBA or our Fast Track blended-learning MBA — are frequently trying to accelerate their current career trajectory.
Most participants in Fast Track are trying to make a “step jump” along their current career path, but there are always a few who want to make a career change .
Is this an EMBA equivalent? I know you said on the podcast that it isn’t, but it sure looks like one.
It has the best features of an EMBA and a regular MBA. Structurally, it looks like an EMBA. The student profile is very experienced – twice as experienced on average as in our other MBA programs.
At the same time, EMBA programs are sometimes perceived as lacking rigor. Quality varies. Babson’s Fast Track program is just as rigorous, demanding, and intensive as our regular MBA programs.
But I noticed a markedly lower GMAT (606) among Fast Track entrants vs. (644) for your two-year full-time program…
The GMAT doesn’t correlate well with performance in Fast Track. Success in Fast Track has more to do with commitment and the ability to spend the necessary time for two years. Fast Track attracts an older audience of working professionals. We suspect they just don’t have the time to do the prep for the GMAT so the average is somewhat lower, or perhaps because they’ve been out of school and away from tests of any kind, including standardized testing, the GMAT test results are lower but don’t really reflect a reduced ability to handle the coursework.
We admit people who have a high probability of succeeding in the course. We’re not in the business of admitting students so they can flunk out. The small number who leave, leave because of time issues.
What percentage of students is sponsored?
Almost 100%. The degree of sponsorship can vary from $0 dollar but support in terms of time off and maintenance of salary, or it can be that support plus 100% tuition reimbursement. And it can be anything in between those extremes. But our students need their employer’s cooperation to allow Friday absences and Thursday travel. They must have the support of their employer.
Do students, whether sponsored or not, have access to Babson’s career placement services and Career Context?
Yes. Babson’s career placement services are aimed at full-time students who are in their late twenties, but all Babson students have access. In addition, they can, and do, use the Babson network of staff and alumni. Just this week I received an email from a Fast Track graduate who wants to change jobs, and I am going to see what I can do to help him.
What do you want to see in applicants who want to join Fast Track?
We do have certain minimum expectations in terms of GMAT performance. We have an average of 600+ and scores of 550-600 are generally admissible. If someone applies with less than a 550, we will examine that person’s application very closely looking for evidence they can succeed: the right kind of professional accomplishment and other evidence they can do the
work ( e.g. the undergrad GPA). We have to believe they can do the work before we will admit them.
What is the right kind of professional achievement?
This program is for people with 8-10 or more years of work experience. They don’t necessarily have to have management experience, but it is preferred. They do need significant experience and evidence of accomplishment. We want driven people. The program is intense and requires commitment. Applicants need to have their company and family behind them.
Given the age of participants and the commitment required of them, we want people who want to make a step-jump in their career. This program is an accelerator of professional development .
Who are the major recruiters for Fast Track graduates?
Participants’ existing employers. Babson works closely with existing employers to make sure they understand the new capabilities of Fast Track graduates, and put those new skills to work.
What do you see as Fast Track’s greatest strength? What is Babson doing to improve further?
Fast Track’s greatest asset is the attention it received and continues to receive from faculty who are dedicated to creating a quality program. Fast Track is a learning and developmental experience. Our real differentiator is the quality of the learning experience we provide.
This past year Babson invested significantly and revised the curriculum. The faculty cared deeply, and their commitment shows in the new curriculum, the blended learning approach, and their extremely high level of engagement in the program.
I believe we have achieved an optimal balance between the traditional classroom and distance learning with 40% face-to-face and 60% online. This balance allows for human interaction, lots of feedback, and flexibility that accommodates students’ working lives.
Does the blended learning approach short-change teamwork and group projects, which are such an important part of most MBA programs?
Not at all. Roughly half the face–to-face time is spent working on projects. Furthermore a lot of the assignments are projects. Students connect either via telephone or chat. Finally, the last 6 credits of the program (out of 46 total) are a required project – The Capstone Project, which requires three face-to-face class meetings. In the course of the Capstone Project, students need to develop an innovative product or service, assess the market for it, come up with a business plan, and present it.
Furthermore Fast Track participants work closely with their 5-6 teammates. They have to do so. They must work with teammates to get through program. All Fast Track students know that at different points in time they will depend on teammates during hectic weeks. Maybe someone will have a big project due or be getting married and they won’t be able to spend the 18-20 hours that week on Fast Track. They count on their teammates to fill in for them knowing that some other week they will need to fill in for someone else. They learn to depend on each other.
What direction do you see Babson going?
Babson is business-only and relatively small, but it has world-wide reach and reputation. Our big new thing in our strategic plan, in which we invested an enormous amount of time, is: Take Babson to the world. Build global brand.
How do you intend to do that?
Currently in the full-time program over 50% of the students are international. Even in Fast Track, 20% are born outside US.
To build on our global reputation we plan to partner with leading schools around the world, as we have done with London Business School for the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, which also has the participation of 40 different countries. Through GEM, the largest study of entrepreneurship as an element in the economy in the world, we monitor and study the level of nascent entrepreneurial activity in different parts of the world.
We also intend to partner with corporations around the world.
What is the question you wish I would have asked?
What are the major trends that will change business education over the next 10 years?
OK. What are the major trends that will change business education over the next 10 years?
I am on the AACSB Pre-Accreditation Committee for business schools and I see the following three trends changing the landscape of graduate business education in the near-future.
1. Baby boomers are retiring. They will be a declining force in shaping business school.
2. The number of PhDs being produced is inadequate to replace baby-boomers and to feed exploding demand for b-school faculty around the world, particularly in Asia. (As a result of these first two trends, the faculty of the future in most business schools will have lower percentage of their faculty who are tenured or tenure-track.
3. The business models for business schools will be more market-driven.
I predict the growth of a new category of faculty – which we call “flex faculty.” They will not be on the tenure track; however will be academically or professionally qualified. They won’t be traditional adjunct professors faculty who show up to teach and then leave. This new category of professor will be participating in the life of the community (not merely supporting). For example they may advise students, attend faculty meetings, design curriculum, and play many of the roles previously reserved solely for tenure-track professors.
I also anticipate that PhDs from other fields, like the social sciences, will teach in greater numbers in business schools.
Finally, the market place will drive new models of business education. Now we have the University of Massachusetts offering an online program. We have the for-profit University of Phoenix model, which has grown phenomenally. We also are witnessing the growth of corporate universities and executive programs. We will continue to see more flexibility in delivery of education and the growth of the blended approach combining distance and traditional classroom learning.
Our blended approach is one among an infinite number of variations along a continuum of learning models — from all face-to-face to all on-line. From our experience and from our perspective, Fast Track represents an optimal balance. It will continue to generate much educational innovation while becoming increasingly accepted.