You might think companies designate the development of managers and executives as a low priority as they try to weather the storm of a recession. Though it’s true many companies scale back tuition benefits and send fewer people to executive education programs, most business leaders still are keenly aware they need to develop current and future talent, especially as the economy begins to recover.
Because of the recent recession, firms had to reduce staff precisely at the time when the first wave of baby boomers — a vast reserve of knowledge and experience — is set to retire. This leaves a much smaller and less-seasoned population of Generation Xers with the responsibility to manage the incoming “boomlet” of millennials. As a result, professional development opportunities no longer are considered a “perk,” and organizations are much more purposeful in identifying future leaders among current managers, and providing them with learning and development opportunities that are cost effective and build capabilities that translate into business results.
This situation raises a number of challenges and opportunities for business schools, which over the last 20 years have expanded from their traditional role of providing companies with freshly-minted graduates to also partnering with them in the development of their existing talent pools. Like many business schools across the country, Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business assumed this new role, in part, by creating a wide range of degree and non-degree programs for working professionals.
The school’s Center for Executive and Professional Development (CEPD) provides short, non-degree courses and certificates, including customized programs. The school’s MBA program is offered in executive, evening and online formats. The school’s full-time MBA program currently is ranked in the Top 30 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The evening MBA program is ranked in the Top 20.
Two part-time master’s degrees also are offered to working professionals: the Master of Science in Information Management (MSIM) is a one-year evening program that prepares IT managers; and the Master in Taxation (MTAX) is a one- or two-year evening program focused on the skills needed to provide tax advice and administer tax laws.
New demands from companies continue to raise the bar on all of W. P. Carey’s programs for working professionals. In response to customer surveys, CEPD recently shifted away from offering multi-day, on-campus short courses to instead scheduling courses over multiple evenings, weekends and online. This minimizes disruption to work schedules. This August, CEPD will launch a series of online, one-week “mini-courses” in marketing, finance, accounting, information systems management, leadership and supply chain management. The courses will be taught by W. P. Carey faculty.
The center also has ramped up its ability to design and deliver custom programs, with objectives and learning materials that can be tailored to specific industry and company needs, and that can be delivered on campus, at company locations, provided entirely online or in a “blended” live/online format.
The school’s professional MBA programs also have several initiatives underway. One involves a deepened focus on leadership across all of the working professional MBA programs. That includes community leadership in concert with an increased focus in the business world on corporate social responsibility.
In addition to integrating significant, new leadership components into the coursework, students, alumni and staff from all of the W. P. Carey MBA working professional programs also recently engaged in volunteering and fundraising for various local nonprofit organizations. The school also initiated annual Student Leadership Awards, with community leadership a major criteria for nomination and selection.
The school’s two other masters programs for working professionals, MSIM and MTAX, also are aligning their programs more closely to the needs of businesses. In the MSIM program, student teams work on a year-long project with a company of their choice (which, in most cases, is their employer). They analyze the competitive forces within the company’s industry, then come up with a transformation plan involving a major IT component and leveraging all the courses they’ve had in the MSIM curriculum.
“Companies see real value in the projects,” said the program’s director, Uday Kulkarni. “Some of our past projects have been actually used by companies, since the plans make specific recommendations about technology platforms, capital and revenue budgets, human resources and project rollout.”
He also points out that the program holds an executive seminar series four times a year so “Valley leaders can speak directly to students about how they are transforming their businesses.”
Similarly, the MTAX program incorporates local practitioners as instructors and seeks to maintain a cutting-edge curriculum through a rigorous annual review process that includes input from an advisory board composed of alumni and distinguished practitioners.
In many ways, the school’s challenges in increasing the accessibility and impact of its programs for working professionals are similar to those faced by companies as they strive to better serve and expand their customer base.