Making the MBA More Relevant in the Marketplace

In the spring semester of the University of Rhode Island’s redesigned one-year Master’s of Business Administration program, students engage in a “live case” with executives from Hasbro, Inc., who share their company’s successful transformation from a toy manufacturer to a global entertainment company, giving them a real life context in which to apply their coursework. Students then form teams to work in a “business laboratory setting” with such established Rhode Island companies as Fidelity and GTECH as well as start-ups like G-Form to develop a new process, practice, or innovative product. One MBA team helped Fidelity Investments synthesize the practices and procedures of four business units that recently merged.

“They analyzed patterns of communication, management structure, workflow blockages, and technological impediments in the communication among employees affected by the merge and between employees and Fidelity customers,” said Professor Bjorn Carlsson. “They interviewed employees at multiple Fidelity locations and researched industry practices. And using videoconferencing technology, they presented their findings, recommendations, and implementation plan to Fidelity executives in Kentucky, Texas, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.”

Mark Higgins, dean of the URI College of Business Administration, set out to revamp the college’s MBA program to make it more relevant in today’s marketplace. He enlisted more than 20 faculty members to review the curriculum, survey national and regional employers, study market trends, and talk to students and alumni. The result is an innovative curriculum focused on managing, designing, and implementing strategic innovation. The program’s location was even changed to the URI Feinstein Providence Campus, closer to the businesses and executives who will play a key role in the program’s strategic innovation-focused curriculum.

“Employers have high expectations for MBA graduates in these ever-changing and demanding times,” said Al Verrechia, chairman of the Hasbro Inc. board of directors. “The new MBA program is expansive, offering a competitive advantage for students. It will prepare them to use critical thinking and analytical skills on the job while applying practical, real world knowledge to confront the challenges businesses are facing on a global level.”

In a traditional MBA, students take five or six concurrent, 15-week courses, each in a distinct functional area taught by a different faculty member specializing in that area. URI’s new MBA curriculum is team-taught and emphasizes critical thinking, evidence-based decision making, and interpersonal communication across the functional areas of a modern corporation. Using a continuous improvement framework, each two-week module during the fall semester is built upon the module preceding it.

“Our new approach demonstrates to students that strategic decision making is not sequential, but rather interdisciplinary across all areas of a business. Disruptive innovation in business is becoming the rule, not the exception, and this new program will ensure our students can thrive and compete,” Higgins said.

Student Joyce Chau said the new approach was tough at first. “It felt like we were trying to learn everything at once, but seeing how the many different departments and aspects of business are connected, as well as having several professors from different disciplines leading the class together, is a great concept. I’m now trained as a generalist, and I feel I can look at business issues with a broader lens and see the bigger picture.”