The University of Wisconsin School of Business has announced that it is considering closing its MBA program.
Higher education, like business, is in an unprecedented period of accelerated change along several dimensions, including technology, globalization, and the changing expectations of students at all levels. To advance our standing as a top business school, we must respond to this reality.
In this vein, over the last several months, the Wisconsin School of Business has been studying how to best serve students and employers. We are currently having discussions within the School regarding the strategic direction of our portfolio of offerings. Included in the discussion is growing our undergraduate BBA and Master’s programs, evolving the focus of our Centers, and considering the future of the Full-Time MBA. These conversations will continue over the coming weeks and respect our governance processes.
This illustrates the impact of some of the fundamental trends in higher ed I wrote about earlier in the week.
Wisconsin appears to be a very undergraduate focused business school. It has 2,550 undergrads, but only 197 traditional MBA students. Its MBA program is ranked 34th in the county by US News. So it falls into the category of many Midwest/Big Ten institutions of “good, even very good, but not elite.”
Several Big Ten universities have MBA programs ranked below Wisconsin. This summer the University of Iowa already announced it would close its full time MBA program. Rightly or wrongly, these actions will fuel speculation around many programs ranked in the same tier.
Decisions like this are the subtext of Gov. Scott Walker’s weakening of tenure laws.
“I do not believe the academy is precisely like a business,” Regina Millner, [University of Wisconsin] board president, said at the meeting. “But we cannot have quality, serve our students, have quality faculty if we do not have a sound financial system. This is a different century, this is a different time …. We need to protect that quality by making certain critical decisions.” Repeatedly during the meeting, Millner and other regents cited the need, in an era of tight budgets, for “flexibility” to close programs — and eliminate faculty jobs in the process.
The changes appear to have been designed to allow the university to shutter underperforming programs, which would be difficult to do if tenured faculty couldn’t be laid off.
We will see what the university does, but painful decisions like these are inevitable in the era we are in. Every state university is not going to be able to be everything to everybody. They are probably going to have to pick and choose. In the impossible dreamworld, Big Ten schools might event pool some of the programs to specialize across states to help them compete with elite schools, the same way some states like Indiana have partitioned programs within the state.
A final note about the Wisconsin School of Business. In 2007 a group of alumni jointly donated $85 million to the school to purchase the naming rights for 20 years. The twist is that the school would remain unnamed during that time, and would simply by the School of Business. In an era when donors are eager to plaster their names all over everything they can buy, I think this was one the classiest moves I’ve seen. It would be especially disappointing for them if the school ends up closing after they made such a selfless gift.