AACSB Blog

Betsy Ziegler

"Think Big. Start Small. Scale Fast."


Posted September 20, 2015 by Ariel Allen - Manager, Marketing and Communications - AACSB International

The first day of the AACSB Annual Accreditation Conference could not have started on a more powerful note. While student and employer demand for MBAs continues to be strong, interest in shorter specialized business degrees is rising, and online distribution channels are gaining traction. Traditional business schools today face various competitors ranging from MOOCs to accelerators for entrepreneurs. Betsy Ziegler, dean of students and newly appointed chief innovation officer at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, gave conference attendees a fresh perspective on the future of business education.

Ziegler explored some of the industry trends that really matter as we envision the future of higher education. The education market is one of the largest industries in the United States, second only to healthcare. Almost daily there are news and predictions on the demise of management education, fueled often by online learning, mass customization, and alternative pathways to professional development. Ziegler remains stalwart in her stance that higher education is here to stay, and she challenges institutions to focus on solving the right problems. Anchoring her conversation were five key trends that are shaping how we envision the future of management education:

  1. Pricing ourselves out of the market
  2. Power shifting to the student
  3. Is school still a place?
  4. Rise of the credential
  5. Future of work

In an age of instant gratification, addressing these concerns is paramount. Business schools have to learn to listen to the market and bridge the formal communication gap that often ends on the graduation stage. With the rise of value in credentials, business schools have to show commitment to demonstrating the full potential of their students.

We must be cognizant that students of all ages are looking for programs and opportunities that fit their lifestyle needs and their professional development goals and that offer a real return on investment. Online programs are great innovations and have a great space in this industry, but they will not be as disruptive to the market as most might think. The human touch is still necessary, and most individuals still require some form of face-to-face interaction.

Ziegler explored a number of additional factors that will continue to alter the field of higher education. In response, she closed with basic tactics that will help business schools excel as well as examples of key players implementing these steps to remain winners.

The bottom line is that every school has power to manage its portfolio. It's not a checkbook that's stopping us. Before she was joined for a Q&A session with industry influencer John A. Byrne, Ziegler left the crowd with this simple advice to maximize the potential of higher education institutions: “Think Big. Start Small. Scale Fast.”

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