Friday, October 26, 2012

On Campus: Midterms and Beyond

USC-Marshall (above) announces a new "MBV" program
Across the country at top business schools, MBA students keep a watchful eye on all that's necessary to secure summer internships and full-time jobs.  It requires hard, steadfast work these days to secure work. But through it all, they keep an eye on yet another ball--midterms now, final exams later. It's a task of terror to attempt to pile on 6-8 weeks of intermediate corporate finance into a few days.

On campus these days, including at the Consortium 17, students scramble to find jobs for 2013, ponder the presidential election in the days to come, rush off to case-group meetings, and bury themselves in cubicles to study for an exam in advanced accounting. The pulse is steady, even as many try not to worry too much about what will or won't happen by next summer.

Choices and Challenges

In between normal academic chores, Dartmouth (Tuck) MBA students found an interesting guest on campus two weeks ago, as part of the school's ethics program. Tuck hosts a "Choices and Challenges" series of speakers in the ethics program.  It invites guests (experts, experienced managers, or alumni) to study, analyze and ponder tricky issues of ethics in business--from managing clients, employees and business units to managing portfolios, investing in new businesses and doing deals.

Andrew Fastow, the former CFO of Enron, came to Hanover (N. H.) to discuss what the current generation of MBA students might learn from the frauds and misrepresentations of the 1990s high-flying energy company, Enron.  Fastow paid his dues by spending five years in prison. Now comes the time to share lessons learned and morals unearthed from years of Enron financial chicanery.

Fastow, who, too, has an MBA (from Northwestern), talked to students about deceitful off-balance-sheet transactions Enron employed. "I used loopholes in the rules," he said, "to get around the principles of of rules."  He spoke to students also about "degrees of fraud," how fraud is not always committed in obvious ways, but in the way of incremental decisions and steps. 

Rankings Hoopla

Business-school rankings, as just about every MBA student or dean knows, can be useful, but they can be dangerous, tricky and misleading. And among the dozen or so institutions and publications that present lists, which one (or ones) are most authoritative?  Sometimes they can be inconsistent and wrong. Yes, list-compilers make errors, perhaps more frequently than they admit.  The Economist magazine this month presented its list of the world's top business schools.  Some Consortium schools, including UC-Berkeley and NYU-Stern, appeared on the list.  The magazine, however, made an odd, somewhat embarrassing mistake with two other Consortium schools.

When the list first appeared, it placed Virginia-Darden no. 2, followed by Dartmouth-Tuck at no. 3--astounding achievements for both schools, when measured against business schools around the globe.  However, shortly afterward, to its own chagrin, the magazine was forced to announce an egg-in-the-face correction. It had made an error. Its list was not what it meant.  Dartmouth was supposed to be no. 2, and Virginia no. 3--probably an insignificant switch in a list of outstanding, prominent schools, but an embarrassment for the publication and a cause of wonder at Dartmouth, Virginia and perhaps all top schools.

Does this mean that such lists are wreaked with more than a few errors, inaccuracies and misrepresentations? ("Degrees of fraud," as Fastow would say.)  Have there been cases in the past when list-producers have made errors, but were too embarrassed to announce a correction and decided to correct the error in another list the following year?

And which list to believe, use, discard, ignore or shrug off? Recent lists, for example, show the top school with the best faculty was Carnegie Mellon (Tepper) (by The Economist) and UC-Berkeley (by the Princeton Review).

An MBA for Vets

How about a new degree certification? The MBV.  USC-Marshall this fall announced a new master's in business for veterans, essentially an MBA program geared for armed-forces veterans.  The program starts in the fall, 2013. Plans call for a one-year, intensified program to leverage the experiences of verterans and to enhance leadership and organizational skills they gained in the services.
Trends in Apps

Business schools everywhere experienced application declines in the past year and are bracing more for declines in the coming admission season.  The reasons have been hashed, explored and analyzed.  Schools haven't concluded yet whether declines are a momentary dip or part of a new long-term trend (declines falling to a stable plateau). 

One school, Cornell-Johnson, thinks declines may be due to factors beyond the sentiments of twenty-somethings and factors beyond tuition costs and employment uncertainties. Avoiding declines can be overcome, it says, by novel approaches to recruiting. Cornell reports its applications the past year were up 17%; revamped recruiting strategies have helped, it contends.

First of all, it has improved recruiting efficiencies--staging joint recruiting programs and presentations with other top schools.  Second, it says applications increased because of aggressive efforts to reach out to under-represented minorities and international students in Asia and Latin America.  Now in 2012-13, Cornell waits to see if this is a one-year spark or part of a welcome long-term trend in attracting top students to Ithaca.

Tracy Williams

See also:

CFN:  On Campus:  Getting Back to School, 2012
CFN:  On Campus:  No Summertime Slowdown, 2011
CFN:  On Campus:  Admission Season, 2011
CFN:  On Campus: What's Up? What's New? 2011
CFN:  On Campus:  Getting an Offer! 2011
CFN:  On Campus:  Never Enough Time, 2009
CFN:  On Campus:  Ready to Seize Opportunity, 2009
CFN:  On Campus:  Countdown to Summer, 2010
CFN:  On Campus:  Spring Fever, 2009
CFN:  On Campus:  Recruiting, a Sixth Course, 2009

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