It never fails. In every graduation speech, you’ll hear how a degree is only the beginning. To succeed, you need to keep reading and learning. Now, the University of Cambridge is reinforcing this principle with a lifelong learning program for graduates of its Executive MBA program.
The Judge Business School has announced that EMBA alumni could return to campus to take one elective per year at no cost. The offer, which had been available informally, is expected to draw nearly a third of the program’s 200 grads back to campus this fall. While electives vary each year, recent courses have included Strategy and Organisation for the Information Age, How to Start Technology Companies, and Fast Strategy, Intrapreneurship and Business Instinct.
Cambridge is not the first school to adopt a free-course strategy for alums. Four years ago, Wharton began offering its MBA graduates tuition-free, on-going executive education once every seven years over the course of their careers. It was the first time a major business school had agreed to give its MBAs free life-long education. UC-Berkeley then followed up on the idea, offering alumni of all three of the Haas School’s MBA programs – full-time, evening & weekend, and the Executive MBA–two days of free executive education training within the first five years after graduation. The Haas benefit began in 2011.
A WIN-WIN FOR SCHOOLS AND ALUMNI
For years, business schools have looked for ways to increase alumni involvement. However, alumni events have rarely woven graduates into campus life. With this lifelong learning program, Judge may have found a means to stay close to alumni beyond just a handshake and small talk.
For graduates, the electives will expose them to the latest research and practices, further increasing their value to employers, according to the school. The coursework also will reinforce skills that can quickly atrophy after graduation. For Judge, these graduates will bring real world experience to the classroom, only elevating the quality of discussions and projects. Not to mention, alumni presence can only help existing EMBA students deepen their business networks.
INTELLECTUAL AND SOCIAL BENEFITS
In the 18-month Judge EMBA program, which currently costs $97,466 in addition to an estimated $11,767 for accommodations during weekend sessions and airfare for a required international business trip, students can only take two electives, often resulting in excruciating choices. Thanks to the lifelong learning program, graduates can return to electives that they missed. Shiri Zilberman (‘11) had always wondered “what if” after hearing from classmates about courses she’d missed. “I felt I’d really be interested to do some of those courses myself,” she says, “and when I came back this year I was able to do the Fast Strategy, Intrapreneurship and Business Instinct elective.”
For career changers like Matthew Condy (’11), electives can also help graduates adjust to new opportunities and expectations. “I took an elective in Consumer Behaviour,” Condy notes, “as I’m transitioning from government consulting to business and management consulting. In my previous industry I was dealing with government clients and politicians, and they behave in ways I’ve studied for a long time. With more commercial ventures there’s a whole new customer base, so there was tremendous value in this elective for me.”
However, the biggest draw may be for graduates to re-connect with their classmates. “I was very happy to see that around 50 per cent of my class had come back,” Condy says. “It’s always good to catch up with old classmates, but we also had the chance to meet and co-mingle with people from other classes who had come back, and with the two current cohorts. That sort of cross-pollination between different groups is just great.”
MORE SCHOOLS MOVING TOWARD LIFELONG LEARNING
Besides Judge, Wharton and Berkeley, other schools are also enticing alumni back to campus (or even online) using free (or discounted) elective courses. Booth graduates can take up to three courses after graduation, paying only for materials and a nominal transcript fee. Most generous of all, EMBAs at Washington University’s Olin Business School can take an unlimited number of electives within 24 months of graduation. However, many programs require some tuition. For example, Kenan-Flagler charges graduates a discounted $800 per course, which must be graded. Similarly, Pepperdine MBAs earn a 75% discount for the first four units per academic year.
Alas, business schools are applying age-old sales wisdom: Your best customers are your current customers. Alumni are their programs’ mirror reflection, the history and values of a school incarnate. Even more, they’re often their schools’ biggest advocates. It only makes sense to bring them back into the fold – and further enhance their value in the process.