On the evolution of higher ed at SXSWxEDU

Discussing the evolution of higher ed at SXSWxEDU and the ROI of an MBA.
The SXSW-EDU portion of the larger SXSW-universe is focused on the entire ecosystem of the education system – from early childhood development researchers, to EdTech companies, to policy-makers, to K-12 teachers, to higher ed administrators, innovators, and everyone in between. 

I had the pleasure of attending on behalf of Accelerate Leadership Center, Tepper School of Business.  My mission (beyond soaking up new information and networks) was to explore new ways to bring STORYTELLING and XR (AR, VR, and MR) into the journey of Leadership at B-schools.

ROI on higher ed

One of the topics I’d love to share is related to the ROI on Higher Ed. Specifically the MBA.

One theme heard over and over again was about the value proposition of the higher ed degree (specifically: a graduate degree). Students as consumers of higher ed programs require a return on two types of investments. First, tuition dollars. And second, time out of career. Of course, making this higher ed decision more complicated as of late are the availability of non-degree online learning options (prevalent and inexpensive), and organizations bolstering their in-house learning and development (L&D) functions.

As such, higher ed degrees (again, specifically graduate degrees) have shifted from competency-based models to occupation-based models. For example, an MBA degree is shifting from “learn [these core competencies] so you can eventually apply it to a number of possible arenas, industries, and careers” to “to be a product manager at a global tech company, you need these hard skills and these soft skills – learn them here”.

Industry and higher education need to be in lock-step
Financial Times discussed the evolution of higher ed and the ROI of an MBA at SXSWxEDU in Austin, Texas
Panelists at the Financial Times-hosted talk at SXSWxEDU –
The Evolving MBA: A Breakfast Talk over Tacos

Saving the value judgement on this shift, it’s clear that the need for industry and higher education to be more connected is critical. Extending the example above, it’s certainly critical that higher education understands what a Product Manager needs to be successful now. Therefore, it’s even more critical to keep the dialogue going with industry… since a Product Manager now is likely to demand different skills than one 5 years from now.

But for professors and administrators of higher education that are steeped in traditional academia, this is a significant shift. Theory is critically important – you’ll never hear me say otherwise! – but BUT BUT learning how to apply those theories to specific industries and positions are what MBA students ultimately want.

So, how do we, as a community of learners and instructors, continue to deliver on that customer desire of occupation-based AND competency-based education? One idea that gained a lot of attention at the conference was about establishing and sustaining the feedback loops with the student into their early alumni years, in order to gather valuable, timely input.

Feedback on the evolution of higher ed

Some feedback ideas from panelists and speakers were:

  • What did we teach you that was NOT useful?
  • What did we NOT teach you that you needed?
  • Were you able to contribute to your organization within the first few weeks in your position?
  • Do you trust your ability to ask tough questions of your own leader / manager?

With this feedback from alumni, higher education institutions and curriculum developers will begin to have the information needed. They can simultaneously deliver value to MBA students who are looking for both a competency-based learning experience and an occupation-based learning experience.

So, what are your thoughts on the evolution of higher ed and the ROI of an MBA? Do you agree with this shifting focus of higher education, to partner more closely with industry? Have you seen this in your own program? We’d love to hear about it!

About the author

Author profile
Lauren Miller
Lauren Miller

After 12+ years as a consultant leading experience-design and transformational change projects for clients such as Nike, Abbott, BMW, FedEx and Salesforce, Lauren pivoted her career from a technology-focus to a people-and-team-focus.

Lauren leverages a unique combination of a traditional business background, multiple Executive Coaching certifications, and experience in both small/boutique and large global consultancies in Boston, Chicago, and Seattle.

She is passionate about authentic leadership during times of organizational change, leaning on inquiry and reflection skills for leadership development.

Currently, Lauren is a Leadership Coach and Instructor for MBA students at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business in Pittsburgh. Outside of that work, Lauren is an executive coach to leaders at all levels and industries: from first-time managers all the way to seasoned executives. She also consults, writes, and speaks about leadership and team development.

Lauren received her Masters in Organizational Learning & Change at Northwestern University. Her graduate research was on the emotional paradoxes of leadership.
Visit her website here. Or connect with her on LinkedIn to continue the conversation!

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