The extent that business school is worth anything—a questionable proposition in itself, according to at least one questionable source—comes not from the actual work done to earn the coveted master of business administration degree, nor from anything learned in the doing thereof. Instead, its value comes from the bauble itself, and from the friends you make along the way, friends who will hopefully go on to become captains of industry and assist your own ascent to captaincy of industry. And those friendships don’t get built in Zoom calls, apparently, as even the people slinging the stuff, like NYU Stern Vice Dean J.P. Eggers, must reluctantly admit.
“Building new relationships online is hard….”
Last year, the Stern school tried to ensure that a third of its M.B.A. classes remained in person, Mr. Eggers said. Some small classes met together, with social distancing, while larger classes were held in a hybrid mode, with some students coming into the classroom and others logging in online. By the end of 2020, the hybrid experiment had failed, he added, thanks, in part, to sporadic in-person student attendance and difficulty of managing blended classrooms and teams….
“The biggest thing we missed out on was networking and travel. You didn’t get a chance to meet with employers,” [recent Stern graduate Matthew] Korinek said.
Of course, the schools themselves had good reason to question the value of soldiering in the midst of a plague.
Many students and faculty say much of the value of a traditional, two-year M.B.A. degree—which can cost more than $200,000 at some universities when factoring living expenses—comes from the in-person experience. Without those networking, socializing and recruiting components during the past academic year, students at many M.B.A. programs, including Stern and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, petitioned for tuition discounts.
Columbia University, Boston University, Stanford University, New York University and University of California, Berkeley, among others, are recalling virtually all business-school students to campus this fall for in-person classes…. Several schools are trying to help students and alumni make up for lost time. The Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley is adding many new events for second-year M.B.A.s who spent much of last year operating remotely, said Peter Johnson, an assistant dean. Those include a special orientation, since those students missed their initial one, plus more workshops with classmates, along with a series of special dinners and receptions.
Nice as all that sounds, however, there will be one key element missing.
Despite universities’ best efforts to make this fall as normal as possible, there will still be gaps in the traditional M.B.A. experience, the schools said. On-campus recruitment may be the last in-person event to return, they warn…. “Recruiters are also not ready to come back to campus,” [Columbia Business School Senior Vice Dean Jonah Rockoff] said. “Many employers are struggling with how to bring people back to the office themselves.”