A New Era for Open Enrollment Programs

As my colleague David Newkirk, CEO of Executive Education at Darden School of Business, explains it, chances are today that the typical 45-year-old manager from the United States already has a solid business education. Accordingly, he says the traditional class portfolio for executive education – MBA skills courses for non-MBA students – has all but disappeared.

According to Newkirk, “Half of our portfolio is now centered on the concept of leadership. A lot of that comes down to the reality that you don’t learn how to lead at age 24. At 35 or 40, with the real business context and experience you get from working in an organization, you can get those leadership skills from our programs.”

The majority of participants we’re seeing today are still later in their career, senior-level executives who can directly contribute to their organization’s strategy. However, many participants are younger high potentials – the leaders of the future.

Michael Malefakis, associate dean of Executive Education at Columbia Business School, says that Columbia’s program has witnessed two major trends in recent years. First, the profiles of participants are more diverse, from a demographic standpoint and in terms of their organizational backgrounds and interests. The school’s social enterprise program has received significant attention from the not-for-profit sector, and in looking at the past three years and continuing into this year, he also sees the trend lines for women participants rising significantly.

Second, Malefakis notes there have been major globalizing trends, calculated both in terms of participants and program revenues. For the fiscal year set to end in June 2011, open enrollment participant numbers at Columbia are up 40 percent year-over-year. And during that same period, more than half of the participants have come from outside the United States. He said part of the jump is from an improving domestic audience, likely  due to the Unites State’s recovering economy, but even more so, from a rebounding international climate.

It’s a similar story at Darden, where nearly half of the participants in the senior management program are from outside the US. Harvard’s annual report indicates that over 60% of their total executive participants are international. “With the exception of India, there’s neither the history, nor the penetration of MBA programs in developing markets,” Newkirk said.

MIT’s Hirst says the trend is no surprise. The world economy has become much more of a knowledge economy, and, alongside globalization, there’s a greater number of parts of the world that are doing better, such as Asia and Brazil, and  they are willing to invest in executives. “In the past, it was major U.S. corporations sending their executives off as they transitioned into running businesses,” Hirst said. “Anecdotally, it seems many of the people interested in these programs today are from Asia, and are coming from large, family-owned business, as opposed to public conglomerates.”

The international percentages skew even higher for longer programs. Where it was once common for programs to run four, six or even eight weeks or more, today the norm is to break open enrollment programs into one or two shorter blocks of time – particularly from the Americas, there is pressure for compressed programs. Conversely, we see signs from emerging countries that there is a willingness and ability to invest time in executive education, particularly from China, Brazil, other Asian countries, Latin America and Eastern Europe. That has many of us contemplating whether open enrollment may be entering a new era.

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