Friday, October 7, 2011

UCLA Anderson: Going It Alone?

UCLA's Anderson business school is exploring going it alone. No, it won't completely separate itself from the rest of the university. It wouldn't be an outright secession. It won't relinquish the UCLA name. It has decided there might be greater benefits in becoming a self-funding, stand-alone institution at UCLA. In the process, it is studying how it can rely less on the "parent" university or the state for financial support. In turn, it will request the right to determine tuition and fees, set academic standards, and hire and pay what they wish for top faculty talent.

Anderson, a Consortium school, has decided that if it can control its finances, preside over all fund-raising and decide what value to put in the cost of an MBA degree, it will attract even greater numbers of high-quality students and improve the MBA experience at UCLA.  There is intrinsic value in being affiliated with the greater UCLA, and it is willing to pay a "tax" for that. It would also pay for other services the parent provides (administration, infrastructure, etc.). But it figures that Anderson would be an even better business school, offering exceptional experiences and resources, if it decides to go it alone.

For prospective students and for alumni who experienced and benefited from Anderson, is this the proper course of action? Will there be notches of improvement in the school, but with substantial increases in tuition? Will alumni, supporters and other benefactors be more willing to become large donors?

Moreover, is there a risk in making itself inaccessible to some portions of the population interested in attending a top business school?

This isn't the first time a business school untangled itself from the rest of the university. Virginia's Darden, also a high-quality, public business school, has done something slightly similar. UCLA-Anderson is studying Darden's blueprint and claims to be somewhat self-sufficient already. It says it doesn't rely on state funding as much as many would think.

What will going alone mean for future students and applicants? While this move may permit it to hire the best professors it can find or launch unique, innovative programs of study, will Anderson price out bright prospects (including those from under-represented groups) who won't be able to rationalize "private school" tuition?

The move is still under review. No doubt it is contemplating these questions and studying all implications and more:

1.  Will other first-rate public business schools follow the same? Will it set tuition and fees based on cost and value of a UCLA MBA, or will they (as many schools do) set it by matching rates at other well-known top private schools? Will a San Diego resident be required to pay the same to attend UCLA for an MBA as that at Cornell's Johnson school or Dartmouth's Tuck school?

Will it be able to provide scholarships and financial aid to select students just as much as it has done before? Or will it argue that self-sufficiency permits it to raise more funds earmarked for scholarships and financial aid?

2.  Being somewhat detached and having authority to set its own agenda (including curriculum, expansion, and forays into online learning), will there be tension with the rest of the university?

3.  Will there be inconsistencies with the rest of the university in how it manages itself? Many business schools, including Anderson, exist with appropriate levels of autonomy already, although all business schools must answer, in some way, to a university president and board of trustees. Will conflicts of interest arise because one graduate school within the university operates in a vastly different manner from others?

3.  Will there be impediments or barriers for students interested in joint programs or degrees (MBA and JD, or MBA and MPA/MPH)? Will business-school students still be able to cross-enroll smoothly in other courses in other parts of the university (international relations, law, communications, engineering, e.g.)?

4.  What happens at the business school, if the school's vision becomes too ambitious (too expensive) such that there funding shortfalls? Must the "parent" university promise to step in to ensure the school is always healthy enough to remain self-sufficient? Or will the parent permit it to sustain and prove itself financially viable (and even fail)--alone?

5.  After UCLA, who would be next? Would other top public business schools hop on board and attempt to do the same? UC-Berkeley (Haas), Indiana (Kelley), Wisconsin-Madison, Texas-McCombs, all Consortium schools?

5.  Does this in any way jeopardize its relationship with the Consortium and other diversity pipeline programs? UCLA-Anderson is one of the newest schools in the Consortium, having joined within the past three years (along with Cornell and Yale).

The last item, in fact, might be the easiest to address. Most, if not all, top-tier business schools are proving a commitment to diversity and ensuring their school rolls include people of all colors, backgrounds and countries. A more independent Anderson will likely strive just as hard to be a better and more desirable Anderson. It knows to be better and more desirable, it must also be attractive and accessible to women and those from under-represented groups.

Tracy Williams

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