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Columbia Set to Launch New MBA Curriculum

Columbia Business School will unveil the latest overhaul of the curriculum for the full-time MBA and EMBA programs in the fall of 2013.

Columbia Business School

Students working in a conference room at Columbia Business School

After considering potential options for about a year, the school’s curriculum committee decided on course work that emphasizes leadership, helps students connect the dots between various disciplines, and teaches them to think like entrepreneurs, says Gita Johar, senior vice dean and business professor. Motivated by the current economic landscape, faculty members wanted the new curriculum to be integrative and innovative, she adds. “We wanted to reflect the business environment, given the financial crisis,” Johar says.

A major change in the new curriculum brings leadership into focus as soon as students step foot on campus. The required leadership course that was once offered in the second half of the first semester is now part of orientation in August. It will last one week but keep the same number of in-class hours. To ensure that students grasp the material—which includes teamwork—they will get feedback from their teammates midway through the first semester, and the leadership faculty will return to address it as well, Johar says.

A new course called “Business Analytics” will be added to the required core, replacing a core course called “Decision Models.” The addition has been expected because many business schools are zoning in on teaching students how to use data to make better decisions. The new course will be more rigorous than its predecessor and will bring much of the information currently offered in an intense analytics elective with the same name into the core, says Alia Smith, a second-year MBA who is the student government vice president of academic affairs and who served as student liaison on the curriculum committee.

To free up time for greater student engagement in the classroom, professors will now ask students to watch five-minute to 10-minute video lectures online before class. For example, you might watch a video on distributions before stats class so you can jump right into the conversation without needing a lengthy lecture from your professor.

While much of the core curriculum will remain the same, three fewer half-courses will be required, making room for electives in the second semester of the first year—something students sought in order to better prepare for summer internships, Johar says. Also, electives will be better aligned with students’ intended career tracks.

Course integration is a further important aspect of the new curriculum. Take CBS’s case study on General Motors (GM): In the current curriculum, the case would come up in various courses, but no one has been explaining how decisions in one class influence those in another. In the new design, the case will be better integrated, Johar says. Professors will now create videos that describe exactly how a student’s decision about the case in marketing influences the one he made in finance. “The GM case will feel much more connected,” Smith says. “You’re not learning in silos. You need to know everything to do the [post-graduation] job well.”

Johar and her colleagues hope the positive student reaction from current MBAs portends good things to come. “Our faculty are very excited,” she adds. “Current students only regret that they won’t get to see it.”

Indeed, Smith, who helped survey 12 to 15 students in each of the school’s 22 clusters to best represent student opinion on the committee, wishes she could sample the new curriculum next year. Students fought to keep their clusters and the integrity of the core, she says, but they also wanted greater attention paid to soft skills. Smith thinks students will be pleased because their voices were heard. “We worked really hard on the curriculum,” she says. “I hope new students like it. My biggest fear is that the first-year class will have no comparison and won’t realize how different it is.”

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