Contextualizing Graduate Management Education: Creating New Degrees Using Stackable Knowledge Units

Submitted by: Alice Stewart (US), North Carolina A&T State University

Summary: Improving graduate management education requires creating specialized management knowledge to match the demands of a more context-specific and technologically advanced knowledge economy. Rather than convert knowledge experts to become managers, making managers more effective at managing technologically advanced organizations and personnel may create greater economic value. Using stackable educational units and certificates can create customized and unique graduate management education.

Full Description: In the 21st century knowledge economy, graduate management education is facing a challenge of ubiquity. The economic value of a graduate management degree may be more a result of an institution’s “brand name” than the knowledge provided by the degree program itself. Knowledge with high economic value is often found in disciplines like engineering, nanotechnology, biotechnology, etc. Knowledge experts in these areas often wish to convert their scientific capabilities into economic value. Corporations that seek to leverage new knowledge into new product, process and service development may have “knowledge holes” where organizational decision makers with managerial responsibility and knowledge experts with economically valuable knowledge speak at cross purposes. Converting technical knowledge experts into managers is not always an effective solution. Trained technical experts may have highest value as creators of new knowledge. Repurposing them to the management function may not fit with their natural skill set. Graduate management education could be improved by creating graduate management programs that are more technologically contextual and specialized; having higher economic value in a knowledge economy. Effective managers in technological contexts require specialized managerial knowledge to create positive economic impact at organizational and societal levels. This proposal suggests an innovative curriculum and enhanced technical preparation for management graduates.

This approach to management education has global impact. Many areas of the world have location-specific advantages that yield inimitable knowledge driven by co-location of needs, resources, and expertise. Learning activities and teaching techniques that develop specialized managers who can quickly facilitate movement of new technologies and processes to market create substantial global economic value. This educational approach, while challenging, is not impossible. Executive education programs customized for specific industries or companies are precursors to this method. A challenge for business faculty is understanding and teaching the management of technology and knowledge creation as primary rather than secondary activities of the value chain. Faculty training and development necessary to implement this approach involves teams of faculty, including faculty from outside business disciplines. Technologically-trained faculty must be equal partners to create management courses that have a more customized technological core or create complementary technical courses that are targeted to non-technical audiences. Measurable outcomes would be increased matriculation in programs that have this type of specialization and an increase in the variety of unique graduate management program offerings. Recruiter satisfaction would suggest buy-in from organizational stakeholders. Higher salaries for more specialized graduates would be another indicator of program value.

Implementing this plan means using post-baccalaureate certificates and “stackable units” to supplement traditional graduate delivery systems. Creating stackable educational units is a new trend at all levels of education. Stackable educational units recognize that knowledge chunks may have more market value than a traditional degree. Stackable educational units allow graduate programs to create education products that are “stand alone”. A delivery system which combines discrete knowledge chunks can create the desired contextualization for students within existing university program structures. Post-baccalaureate certificates, some developed by technology experts and others developed by management experts could be combined in unique ways that fit the specific developmental and knowledge needs of the student. Unique combinations of these stackable certificates could be converted to a designated graduate “degree”.  If graduate programs regulated the type of acceptable certificates and created incentives for their development, implementation of contextualized graduate education is achievable. Consortiums of universities are also viable; some with technological specialization, others with managerial specialization. Certificates or other stackable units could be transferred across consortiums, much like courses are transferred across universities in the current system, creating a more transparent market for well taught specialized knowledge units.