The Wharton EMBA: Connecting Two Coasts

Students at the San Francisco campus. Photo courtesy of The Wharton School

Students at the San Francisco campus. Photo courtesy of The Wharton School

How have application and enrollment numbers trended over the past three to five years?

You know, they tend to move, not surprisingly, with the market and the amount of dollars you spend on marketing. But what I’m seeing is an increase in the quality and diversity of the applicants. And that’s really what is important because that’s what can drive your class size—not just the number of applications. So we’re lucky enough that this year, we have the largest class we’ve ever had in San Francisco and we’re tied for the largest in Philadelphia. We’ve got the most number of women in San Francisco at 35% of the class.

The other thing we’ve seen, like I said earlier, is the uptick in health care applications, but also in government, the military and NGOs. So that’s been really great to see, too, because that adds an element of diversity in your class that really changes conversations for the better.

How has technology impacted the programs at Wharton?

Probably, the most potential is a tele-presence system that we put in with the help of Cisco a couple of years ago. It’s a little more real-life looking than your typical teleconferencing system. When we project a faculty member or speaker from one campus to another, it literally looks like they’re standing in the same room. They’re life-size, and they’re at the front, and the faculty member can see the students in the class. So it looks like another layer of rows of seats behind them.

It just makes it easier on the eyes of the folks in the room. This way, it literally looks like you’re standing up on the floor of that room. And there’s something about it that really feels better and the students, they don’t mind it at all, and the faculty are happy we have this technology—that people can see them when they might not otherwise be able to. And now we’ve opened a facility in Beijing, and we have this tele-presence technology there, too. So, that opens up all kinds of possibilities in terms of speakers in industry or even academics.

The other thing, which is on the spectrum of what’s going to happen moving forward, is how our faculty have been really engaged in developing these MOOCs. And also, we started to toy around with this idea that in our executive education arm, we have at least one and maybe two online options there. We’re not trying to turn this program into an online program, but what it does do is give our faculty ideas of how to change their teaching methods. For example, we’re doing this flipped classroom now, where we’re going to take some online content, which is lecture based, and have the students watch it outside of class, so when they’re in the classroom, they’re actually making the most of that time with the faculty member and with their classmates to be more engaged in discussion.

It’s also given us some preparation materials that we haven’t had before. I have some students in my class who did the MOOC we have on accounting and it was a really great intro to the course. So I think that will be a direction that will change the program, or at least how students experience the program. It’s also given the faculty some liberty to think about how they might present materials. So, I know this professor who’s created this online exec ed course and it has made him think about how he could use a simulation. So he’s going to take this simulation that he actually designed to use in his online course, but he’s going to teach it in his in-person course, for our MBA for executives. So that’s been a really nice cross-pollination of ideas.

I think MOOCs can be a great way to get faculty to think about what they’re doing in a different way, but I don’t think they are a substitute for an in-person class.

How do you see the EMBA market changing over the next three to five years?

I think it’s definitely going to get more competitive—we’ve definitely seen that over the past 10 years. And the other thing is a continuous decline of sponsorship. I think that’s likely to keep going and will add to the competitive nature of the space. But at the same time, I think there’s this real possibility that the executive format of an MBA could become the business degree of choice in this country. It already is in many other parts of the world. As people realize you get this opportunity to learn and apply your knowledge in real-time while you’re working, and you get to develop a network and enhance your career all at the same time, there’s huge value to doing that. And I think a lot of the rest of the world already gets that point, and we could be moving in that direction over that 10-year time span.

Why do you think other countries are doing this more than the United States?

I don’t know if I can answer that fully. It could just be the emphasis we’ve placed on the two-year MBA initially here. That might have kind of stopped the growth of the other degrees and maybe—I’m just guessing here—maybe the other countries didn’t start with that two-year MBA, but that is a guess.

What are students seeking from career services?

Definitely with increased self-funding, students are more interested in having career services. Even, I think 10 years ago, it was barely a thought in anyone’s mind. But now I think it’s really important. Students are looking for how to position themselves within their companies and also take what they’re being exposed to here and expand their knowledge and their reach into industries they might not have even thought. So, what we’ve done over the past few years is created dedicated career management resources for our executive MBAs on both coasts. Each coast has a career advisor dedicated to the students. They provide, in turn, tools as basic as helping them think about their resumes to how do you position yourself, and they do assessments for self-discovery and create panels of executives to help them learn about other industries. One of the key things our career management advisors focus on is networking. How do you use a network? How do you tell your story within a network to help propel your career? So I know that’s one of their key mantras.

From a scheduling perspective, finding the time for a lot of these things is just difficult. So what we did in the last year is created dedicated days for career discovery. And it’s helped because you’re not trying to squeeze something in this half hour you have between classes or while you’re eating a meal. This way students have some real time to think about things like social media. How should they be using social media like LinkedIn and Twitter and those things? How should they be branding themselves? And then, like I said, bringing in panels to discuss entrepreneurial opportunities as well as career paths like finance or consulting and even non-profit board service, which we try to get our students to think about.

Who or what factors do you see as your program’s main competitors?

Our prime competitor is actually the belief, ‘Don’t go back and get your MBA.’ Because these folks are accomplished professionals and for many of them it makes sense to just keep going on in their careers. And so, our job then is to make the case for why they should dedicate time and resources to going back to school and being incredibly busy for two years. We have to make the case on not just salary but also, what did you want to do with your life? What opportunities are we opening up? So all of those things are what we need to compete with that we call ‘Don’t go get an MBA.’

If you could make one thing in the EMBA marketplace happen, what would it be?

I would love for people to realize that an MBA for executives can be a full-octane MBA. That you don’t have to shortchange this thing and that we really pride ourselves on that. That’s one short thing to hope for.

The other short thing to hope for would be that people could realize all of the benefits that potential entrepreneurs could get from coming back and getting an MBA—and all of the tools and skills they would gain from doing this. Because you know, you read a lot out there about how you don’t need to go back and get an MBA but we really believe it’s a huge benefit.

My bigger answer is that going back to school for your MBA creates stronger partnerships between schools and employers. I think that would benefit everybody. In particular, students, because I think it’d really enhance the options they would have, and the support that they would get from their employers, if the employer was more involved in what they were doing, why they were doing it, and how they were doing it. And it doesn’t have to be financial sponsorship, but more of a partnership where we’re working together, all three of us on enhancing opportunities for the students. The employers would have the benefit of keeping their best performers, giving these folks a significant chance at making contributions in the firm. And the schools would benefit because the employers historically have helped us identify the best candidates out there. And so I think it would really be beneficial for everybody—not just Wharton.


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