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Duke University's Russ Morgan Talks MBAs with MBAPrograms.org

Russ Morgan, Associate Dean – Daytime MBA and MMS, Fuqua School of Business, Duke UniversityMuch has been said about the changing role of the MBA in today's professional climate. We asked Russ Morgan, Associate Dean for Duke University's Daytime MBA and MSS at the Fuqua School of Business, for his thoughts on the current business school landscape and some of the myths surrounding MBAs.

What trends do you see in the MBA landscape today that weren't present five years ago?

The trends that stand out to me were all present five years ago but have strengthened to be more prominent today. From a curricular standpoint, I see more interest in practicum engagements. I also see some macro trends, where universities are coordinating across disciplines and schools to better deliver cross disciplinary content. That content varies, but energy, sustainability, and social impact are all areas I have seen with increasing coordination across disciplines.

I also see more interest in global job opportunities. The historical pay gap between the Western economies and other countries, including emerging markets, has tightened a bit, which has resulted in many more attractive job offerings in markets that may not have traditionally been as attractive to many students.

What do you make of the questions currently being brought up in regards to the MBA's bubble bursting?

Most of the questions brought up around the bursting of the MBA bubble appear to question the value of getting an MBA. It is actually healthy for there to be some question about the value proposition of an MBA for each individual considering pursuing it. We need to be clear, though, on exactly what bubble is suggested to be bursting. The assumption should not be whether there is an end coming to a world where all MBAs have a guaranteed, high paying job awaiting them at graduation. I don't think MBAs as a whole have ever had that.

I do feel there is a real and important point embedded in the bubble bursting questioning around the value proposition for an MBA, though. Prospective students and employers absolutely will want to consider what it is about an MBA that makes it worthwhile to make the investment of time and resources to earn the degree or to hire someone with the degree.

It will always be an individual decision on whether an MBA makes sense and that decision is predicated on the MBA program, the timing, and the institution being the right fit. Each individual's developmental goals are of great import here and the degree and format for the degree need to match those goals. The business education market has done a good job in evolving to meet the varied education needs - including Weekend MBAs, residency/distance EMBAs, full time MBAs, and alternatives such as a specialized master's degree (Fuqua has a one year Master in Management Studies degree that is largely for students without material work experience). That evolution in the education market has been important. Prospective students have never had a better ability to match the program with their development needs.

So, rather than see a bubble bursting I see a market where both sides are appropriately considering the value of talent, which is supplied with variation in experience and education. On the input side, a prospective student may consider when and in what form does it make sense to invest in oneself to develop their talent. On the recruiting side, organizations might ask what talent is needed to help solve the issues facing business today. Quality business schools will continue to play a role in that talent development but the form may look different than it did a few decades ago, or even 5 years ago.

Why types of shifts do you think will take place in the landscape over the course of the next few years?

I think most schools are figuring out the best way to deliver content. Technology has evolved to where opportunities exist to better leverage asynchronous learning, where faculty and students can connect at times that are most efficient for both parties. However, that ability has to be matched with the learning objectives and there is clearly a great benefit in many environments to learning and development from being co-located and having interactive discussions and experiences. Some shifts are already taking place in the form of flipped classrooms, where pure lecture content can be recorded and delivered in a way that students can participate in on their own schedule and in-class contact time is preserved for discussion and joint experiential content.

I also expect practicum and other experiential opportunities will continue to increase in popularity and significance. These can take the form of consulting projects, cultural experiences with travel, and mentored study types of programs. A related trend here is reflected in the reemergence in business schools of some content more common to a liberal arts program.

What advice would you give an employee and prospective student about pursuing an MBA?

I would start with a question - why is it that you want an MBA? Be honest with yourself. This pursuit is costly, but well worth it if you can find the right developmental path. Coming from that, I would advise the person to match their rationale and goal with the school and the MBA format they choose. This starts with a reflection on what development they feel is necessary to become the person they desire to be. In this pursuit a school's faculty matter, staff matter, facilities matter, access to career markets matter, and overriding all of that - find the place that is the right cultural fit for you. You will spend a lot of time on campus and with your classmates - you should feel empowered and energized by your environment.

If you have some uncertainty, that is OK, but make a choice that creates some optionality for you. Choose a school or program that allows you to have some breadth in developing and also allows you to find your way and develops you in a way that permits some options and alternative paths as you find your way.

Along with possible salary benefits, what benefits do you think that an MBA provides for a student/professional?

Salary should not be the only outcome from the pursuit of an MBA. While students will develop some specific skills, it is most important to develop frameworks and to have experience thinking more deeply with these frameworks. Graduates should be able to better see and understand the entire context, to be able to ask right questions, and to have the courage to make tough decisions.

Another outcome of the MBA is the experience from exposure to a network of diverse, talented people who can help them better think about and understand business and life. Having a broader view of the world is important. For those getting it right, salary will be secondary to quality of life, happiness, and a long term career match with whatever a student is passionate about.

What is one misconception about MBAs that you would like to dispel?

One misconception that troubles me is the occasional remark that MBA graduates have a reputation for being unethical and devoid of leadership. I think the misconception may be generated through rare but real stories of morally or ethically corrupt businesspeople, which gain prominence through news stories and leads to the attribution that on the whole, businesspeople and MBA degree holders are morally deficient.

Far to the contrary I have seen our students and graduates act as courageous leaders with character and strong principles that guide how they interact with others and make decisions. They will undoubtedly make the world a better place and if anything, will be the ones who ask others to elevate their behaviors.