Professionalizing the MBA Through Service to Others

Submitted by: Erich Dierdorff (US), DePaul University

Summary: Provide a structure to enable MBA students to serve others by teaching business to underrepresented urban student populations.

Full Description: Provide a structure to enable MBA students to serve others by teaching business to underrepresented urban student populations.

The founders of university-based business schools had lofty dreams. At a time in history where child labor and factory abuses were the rule, business schools were created to build a professional class of managers who would be socialized into a profession rooted in a socially productive compact between business and society at large. Rakesh Khurana notes that these professional managers would pursue a calling where authority would be found "not only in expert knowledge but in their obligation not to represent the interests of either owners or workers - much less of themselves - but to see that the corporation contributed to the general welfare." Yet, the promise of a managerial profession has been at best derailed and at worst entirely undermined. Such failure stems from the exclusive emphasis on inculcating critical knowledge needed for effective business administration, while simultaneously neglecting the professional ideals upon which the institution was founded.

One ideal that underlies all true professions is the common purpose of serving others in the pursuit of personal success. Highly professionalized occupations are at their core based upon a rich set of ideals that promote societal good. In short, the proposed MET idea is to encourage such service by partnering MBA students with high-school institutions in areas of high educational inequity.

There are two primary outcomes of this idea. First, the idea will increase professionalization of the MBA through service. Here, MBA students will gain a broader view of organizational stakeholders while promoting social good. In addition, the opportunities for self-awareness are greatly increased when students apply their knowledge by teaching it to others. Simply put, this MET idea moves MBA students out of the comfort of the ivory tower into a context where their knowledge and skills can make a real and observable difference in the lives of others.

The second outcome is to establish a structured pipeline for recruiting students from diverse backgrounds to MBA programs. As such, this MET idea is likely to have its greatest impact on domestic institutions. According to a McKinsey & Company study, educational inequity costs the domestic economy roughly $500 billion per year. Clearly graduate management education can and should contribute in some way to ameliorating this domestic educational crisis. Towards this end, promoting college as a viable option and business as a valuable career are two forces that lay the foundation for ultimate pursuit of the MBA. For example, it is universal that MBA programs require an undergraduate degree. Although recruiting efforts that focus on promoting a diverse undergraduate applicant pool already exist, this MET idea seeks to take a longer-term approach by sowing the seeds of passion for business education much earlier.

This MET idea is a form of service learning, which of course is not new to university settings. What is new is that the proposed idea focuses on institutionalizing this form of service as a required rite of passage in the MBA curriculum (i.e., dedicating a specific residency period, such as a full semester). At the heart of the program is establishing partnerships with local high-school institutions. Modeled after Teach-for-America, this requirement can be flexible in its implementation where MBA students interface with high-school students via class work, workshops, student projects, after school and enrichment programs.

In regard to implementation, the best tactic would be to identify a few key “testing grounds,” which would likely be universities situated in urban areas (or regions). MBA programs would need to create an infrastructure for building and maintaining the program, which would necessitate a dedicated administrator. Of course students would require preparation before embarking on such service. This would entail instruction on pertinent issues such as socio-economic factors and common challenges faced by students, as well as on how to effectively teach primary business topics. Important to note is that universities typically have community outreach programs or offices of service learning. Thus, many universities would have “local” examples on which to model the proposed MET idea.