A review of The Aspen Institute Guide to Socially Responsible MBA Programs: 2008-2009.
As I have indicated in earlier posts (1 2 3), the Aspen Institute Center for Business Education's (CBE) www.caseplace.org is a great source for MBA case studies focused on issues related to social responsibility. CBE's other site www.beyondgreypinstripes.org actually ranks MBA programs through its "Beyond Grey Pinstripes" rankings. The most recent was for 2007-2008.
Before going onto a review of The Aspen Institute Guide, I think it is helpful to consider the source of data that the guide was based on. While I will not reprint the entire "Global 100," I would mention that the schools that rank well on this list include both unsurprising perennial "Top 20" schools and some schools that get little if any attention from Businessweek, US News & World Report, EIU, FT, Wall Street, or Forbes. Seeing alternatives is always valuable because it makes one look at something from a new perspective. Getting a new perspective on ranking is always a good idea from my perspective(as anyone who has followed my various methods for ranking programs can tell). For that reason alone, for anyone looking for an MBA program with strong social responsibility content, "The Global 100" is worthy of serious consideration.
The same is true of The Aspen Institute Guide to Socially Responsible MBA Programs: 2008-2009. The book brings life to the data found at www.beyondgreypinstripes.org. For those who are trying figure out where to apply and are interested in socially responsible investing, non-profit management, environmental issues, social entrepreneurship, socially responsible management practices, sustainability, and development, The Aspen Institute Guide provides an efficient way to learn which programs focus on these issues. It highlights socially responsibility related core and elective courses, institutes and centers, annual events, other events, student clubs and programs, and, where applicable, faculty pioneers. Actually, when I advise my clients about what they need to highlight to show why they want to attend a particular program, it is often these categories that I suggest they focus on. While The Aspen Institute Guide could not possibly include every potentially relevant aspect of the program, it does quite a good job of providing a solid introduction.
That said, as this is the first edition, I do hope they make some improvement to it in future editions. The summaries are very good, but the analysis of each program is rather limited. While the ranking analysis is available on www.beyondgreypinstripes.org, I think the authors needed to make the book stand on its own. Unfortunately at an analytical level it does not.
I was surprised to see that the book did not even include "The Global 100" rankings. I think this is rather unfortunate. Readers will have to refer to the ranking list because they will not find "The Global 100" in The Aspen Institute Guide.
But that is not my chief criticism. Rather, I found "The Bottom Line," The Aspen Institute Guide's attempt at analysis to be useless. Instead of providing some sort of a real analytical narrative about the program, the only analysis is a set of comments that simply represent data:
"We applied a statistical analysis to determine the relative strength of each along a few select criteria...We then make qualitative remarks using the flowing terms to reflect precise statistical scores:
- Truly Extraordinary-given to schools that scored more than one standard deviation above average
- Excellent- given to schools that scored between average and one standard deviation above average
- Good-given to schools that scored between one standard deviation below average and average" (P. 12)
Stanford: "Compared to other business schools in our survey, Stanford University offers a truly extraordinary number of courses featuring relevant content, and does a truly extraordinary job in those courses explicitly addressing how mainstream business improves the world. Stanford University requires 23 core course featuring relevant content." (p. 144)
IE: "Compared to other business schools in our survey, IE Business School offers a truly extraordinary number of courses featuring relevant content, and does a truly extraordinary job in those courses explicitly addressing how mainstream business improves the world. IE Business School requires 40 core course featuring relevant content." (p. 144)
It would be better to have the data behind such comments than to have this qualitative version of it. The creators (writers does not seem appropriate, perhaps editors and/or statisticians) of the guide should be willing to provide the numbers. After all, any would-be applicant who can't handle a few numbers is going to have a difficult time getting a decent GMAT score, not to mention surviving business school. While it would be easier to see the numbers, including ranking data, what I would really wanted is an analytical section that reflected real expertise and not mere statistical conclusions. The Guide's authors hope that prospective students, the business education community, and recruiters will use it(p. 10). If so, it had better provide all three intended audiences with some guidance to and not just a summary of programs.
Another area of future improvement would be to identify socially responsible companies that recruit at each school. This is no easy task, but to include such data would be very helpful to applicants as well as make recruiters more interested in The Aspen Institute Guide.
I should point out that there is also some inconsistency between "The Global 100" and The Aspen Institute Guide. The most extreme example from my perspective was that HBS, while not part of "The Global 100," received "Bottom Line" comments that are in no significant way different from Stanford GSB or IE:
"Compared to other business schools in our survey, Harvard University offers a truly extraordinary number of courses featuring relevant content, and does a truly extraordinary job in those courses explicitly addressing how mainstream business improves the world. Harvard University requires 9 core course featuring relevant content." (p. 79)
This alone suggests that CBE needs to a better job of linking its guide to its rankings. If CBE is to be the authority on socially responsible business programs, it needs to create a consistent set of publications so that applicants, schools, recruiters, and even admissions consultants like myself will be looking at CBE 's "Global 100" the same way we do when looking at Businessweek's or other more generally recognized rankings of MBA programs.
On a more positive note, I want to mention that The Aspen Institute Guide includes very useful appendices on MBA concentrations, joint MBA degrees, and a geographical breakdown of the location of the programs. This information will prove useful to all applicants as part of their school selection process.
Again, the summary is great and I would recommend the guide to those who are interested in exploring their options for a socially responsible MBA education, but it is only a first step. In addition to it, you must certainly look at CBE's two great websites (mentioned above) as well as The 2007 Net Impact Student Guide to Graduate Business Programs. I hope that future editions of The Aspen Institute Guide to Socially Responsible MBA Programs will include introductory essays, perhaps by some of the faculty pioneers, as well as a greater analysis of how each MBA program creates a socially responsible business education, and also some qualitative-based comparisons between programs. Given the ever-expanding number of MBA applicants who have a social responsibility agenda, I am confident that The Aspen Institute Guide will become a standard resource for many future applicants.
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