Schools Need to Offer More than an Education

Christina Balotescu

March 4, 2013

Many hands together with a heart painted on them, implying generosity

In 2013 the Wall Street Journal published  “A Smart Investor Would Skip the M.B.A: Why spend six figures on a business degree? Students would do better to train and network on their own”.  It questions, justifiably, the two main points of a business degree: the education and the benefits of the network of fellow graduates.

Institutions of all types and all sizes face the same inquisition in this day of increasing financial pressures and online education. If they don’t pay attention to delivering high-level relevant education while fostering the value inherent in the network, they face an uphill battle.

The article simultaneously created uneasiness and excitement, offering an alternate investment of the $174,400 cost of a Harvard Business School M.B.A.  As an M.B.A candidate two-thirds of the way through NYU Stern’s  program, I conduct a mental cost-benefit analysis with each new semester. At $6,000 per class, I’m keenly aware of the urgency to extract maximum value from every minute of class time - particularly as my new business competes for those dollars. At what point in the process does the value of the education become greater than the value of the ‘credentials’ of completion - particularly for an entrepreneur?

I believe passionately in the power of education. However, students of traditional and nontraditional ages are demanding more from their investment. Prestigious institutions can no longer rest on their laurels - not when companies like Udacity are offering free, world class education to anyone with an Internet connection. Funny, we still hear infomercials urging us to call for free information. Who pays for information these days?

It begs the question, how will institutions compete with the ubiquitous cheap, high quality online courses while preserving their academic research programs and that ‘irreplaceable’ classroom experience?

Institutions will forever maintain their own database of alumni. They would do well to offer it on a silver platter to their own, so that alumni may derive the maximum benefit from the network. All this is possible in a branded, interactive community built around the same database they work so diligently to maintain.

Alumni have been flocking to Facebook and LinkedIn because institutions have failed to offer such an interactive network. Both parties lose: the alumni only have access to their existing contacts or the subset that is active in those networks; and institutions lose metrics, alumni insight, branding value and dollars.

When institutions allow alumni use the network in the ways that benefit them the most, goodwill towards the school will increase. The best time to make the ask for a donation - large or small - is when they won’t return with, “What have you done for me lately?”

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