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Vishal Gaur, Associate Dean for MBA Programs

Jan 05 2017

The MBA Core: New and Improved…and a Success

Vishal Gaur, Associate Dean for MBA Programs

Lessons from three years of experience with the new Johnson core curriculum

Johnson revised its MBA core curriculum in fall 2014, almost three years ago. Based on a year-long study involving alumni, corporations, students, and faculty, the new core curriculum sought to achieve three objectives:

  1. enhanced coursework for technical and quantitative skills and decision analysis tools,
  2. greater emphasis on personal and leadership skills, and
  3. development of critical thinking and integrative skills.

The revision followed the guiding principle that the core should go beyond providing a foundation for advanced elective courses — it should be responsive to the needs of employers in critical areas and should shift the focus early toward practical application to better and more quickly transform students into well-trained MBAs.

Creating Our New Core Curriculum

We made several changes to accomplish all three of our objectives:

  • The statistics core course was replaced with a new Data Analytics and Modeling core course, with emphasis on data manipulation and analysis tools like Tableau, modern examples and case studies, and new topics such as data privacy, ownership, and ethics.
  • The finance core course was revamped to include comprehensive financial modeling exercises and extensive use of spreadsheets in class and on tests.
  • A new leadership curriculum was introduced. It begins with the Johnson 360 Leadership Assessment, then a course on leading teams, and the Leading Teams Practicum in year one. In the second year, students complete another 360 assessment and a principled leadership course. An important feature of this leadership curriculum is its blend of coursework and practicums throughout the two-year program that develops students into effective leaders.
  • A new core course was added on critical and strategic thinking with small class sizes to facilitate extensive in-class discussion of case studies.

The new core is not without its challenges. Operationally, it is difficult to schedule a second-year core course in a way that allows students to complete their preferred electives. We also have to work continuously with students to balance various demands on their time imposed by academics, recruitment, and co-curricular activities with respect for their own personal lives. For example, soft- and hard-skills courses are mixed together so that students with skills in different areas can use their time effectively. Both faculty and staff have to be responsive to student needs and sensitive to their concerns.

Indications of Success

The experience thus far shows that the new Johnson core has been a big success. It indeed goes beyond providing a foundation for advanced elective MBA courses. One aspect of this is internship success. Students report being well prepared for internships, being able to distinguish themselves by using tools taught in the core on internship projects, and having a higher yield from internships to full-time offers. Johnson’s rankings in the Corporate Poll component of the Bloomberg Businessweek rankings have improved since the new curriculum was introduced.

A second aspect is stronger integration within both the first-year class and with second-year MBA students, who serve as Johnson Leadership Fellows. These fellows advise first-year core teams and act as Career Work Group leaders for first-year career preparations. This creates shared ownership with higher team success as well as opportunities for second-year students to mentor teams. Further, core teams and sections are created using a complex algorithm to enable a richer classroom experience and a stronger interaction among students in the entire class.

Finally, the new core curriculum is efficient. It better prepares students for the immersion curriculum in their chosen functional area and industry, so they can use their time at Johnson more effectively.

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