By Courtney Rubin
Apr. 3, 2018.
U.S. business schools are beefing up international offerings for students who want jobs in an interconnected global economy.Last fall, when Grace McLarty, a 23-year-old management consultant in Chicago, was assigned a project with a colleague in South America, she knew she should not necessarily expect immediate responses to out-of-business-hours emails and made sure to discuss with her partner their respective work styles.
“I already knew what questions to ask, and that her work-life balance would be different than mine,” McLarty notes. It sounds like such a small thing, she says, but it helped the project run smoothly and on time.
McLarty credits her ease working with people from different countries and cultures to a new 10-month program she completed in 2017 that simultaneously earned her two business degrees and a certificate from schools on three continents.
A partnership between the University of Virginia‘s McIntire School of Commerce, Lingnan (University) College at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China, and ESADE Business School in Barcelona, Spain, the program sends students to live and study as a cohort at all three institutions for stints ranging from nine to 15 weeks.
Participants take courses focused on global business strategy and practices to help them understand the unique aspects of doing business in the U.S., China and the European Union. Graduates earn a master’s in global commerce from UVA, a master’s in global strategic management from ESADE and a certificate in international management from Lingnan. The program debuted in 2016, and the Class of 2018 includes 60 students from 15 countries.
UVA’s program reflects a growing trend among U.S. business schools to beef up their international offerings for students who want to prepare themselves for a more interconnected global economy. Though elite U.S. business schools are still a big draw to students from other countries, in recent years they have lagged behind their foreign counterparts in global academic offerings.
But that trend is starting to turn around as U.S. business schools aggressively reimagine their standard MBA curricula. Many schools have introduced globally focused courses such as Chinese Economy and Financial Markets at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business or The Political Economy of China at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
And since 2016, all full-time MBA students at the Yale School of Management have been required to take Global Virtual Teams, a course where they work with students from other network schools abroad tackling, for example, a 24-hour factory simulation.
In such an experience, students oversee a hypothetical production line and serve in mock business roles, making key operations management decisions while getting a feel for working across cultures and time zones.
Now, other institutions are taking things even further with deep immersion programs, academic alliances with global partners and even a brand-new global business school – all designed to attract more international students and turn domestic ones into culturally sensitive – and effective – multinational business leaders.
Though study-abroad options have been standard fare for years, business schools at Pennsylvania State University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University and Rice University have made them core requirements, often in the form of short immersion trips.
Though Rice has required so-called global immersion programs for its executive MBA students for a few years, the full-time MBA class entering in the fall of 2018 will now also have to complete a mandatory field experience before graduation.
An immersion lasts roughly 10 days, with about half of that time devoted to intense coursework, including meetings with local academics and business leaders, and “more cultural, more big picture, more on the pure fun end” excursions on the side, says Barbara Bennett Ostdiek, senior associate dean of degree programs.
In 2018, full-time students will travel to Brazil, and Ostdiek expects a continued emphasis on emerging markets in the years ahead. Many other schools, such as b-schools at the College of William and Mary, the University of Florida and the University of Michigan, offer global immersion opportunities but don’t require them.
The Stern School of Business at New York University still makes international academic experiences optional for MBA students, but the number who have embraced global offerings has grown substantially in recent years, says Jamie Tobias, assistant dean of student engagement.
Some 130 MBA students took part in programs with a study-abroad component in 2004-2005 compared with nearly 500 in 2016-2017.
In 2016, MBAs in the traditional two-year program could opt for a one- or two-week Doing Business in … elective course held in one of about a dozen countries – including Australia, Israel and Hungary – where they talk to academics, make company visits and, as at Rice, also have cultural experiences.
Many students also partner with faculty and go abroad through Stern Solutions to help solve a real-world business problem. A recent group collaborated with the World Wildlife Fund and the United Arab Emirates’ Fujairah municipality to launch the country’s first national park. Students spent two weeks in the UAE before the start of the semester, then they worked to come up with a strategy before presenting it by videoconference.
Much of the new business school emphasis on global studies is coming in master’s degree programs, which are fast-growing as an alternative to the MBA.
Reflecting this trend, the Yale SOM announced in September a new master’s initiative called M2M along with four other schools – the University of British Columbia‘s Sauder School of Business, HKUST Business School in Hong Kong, HEC Paris, and Brazil’s FGV Escola de Administração de Empresas de São Paulo – that will allow students to simultaneously earn master’s degrees at two of the participating schools in a two-year program.
The first cohort of students will begin in August. Enrollees will pay the tuition costs of whichever institutions they attend. Yale’s annual tuition and fees for 2018-2019 will run about $71,600, while those at HEC Paris are roughly $30,200 in U.S. currency. Travel and living expenses are not included.
Giving students the skills to work in a global marketplace is “what recruiters tell us they’re looking for,” says David Bach, Yale SOM’s deputy dean. In 2012, Yale helped bring together a group of schools from around the world to form the Global Network for Advanced Management, which provides a range of both curricular and extracurricular travel and other activities for students at the 32 schools that now participate.
As at Yale, UVA’s McIntire program places a lot of emphasis on tapping the expertise of each school and location involved in the partnership. Business students start at McIntire, where they take advantage of working with a foreign company doing business in the U.S. to study global strategic management, global market research and cross-cultural decision-making. The program is taught in English in all three countries.
After 15 weeks, they move on to China, where they focus on global finance and operations and take advantage of visiting high-tech companies in Hong Kong and Southern China.
Finally, at ESADE in Spain, they focus on entrepreneurship, corporate social responsibility, and innovation and global alliances. Graduation is in Barcelona. Students pay approximately $36,000 in tuition, plus roughly $10,000 in housing expenses for the 10 months. Travel expenses are not included.
Members of the 2017-2018 class of five dozen students live together during their time on all three continents in cross-cultural apartments. “Students are teaching each other all the time” in both formal and less formal ways, says Lynn Hamilton, the academic director for McIntire. The cohort has organized an international cooking night, and students are known to share their own language lessons.
Hamilton says she can see the program eventually expanding to include even more country choices for students. But she sees the biggest value in students working through the experience together, as opposed to having individualized study-abroad experiences. “We really want to stick with this cohort aspect because we see it as so critical,” she says.
Although no American graduate from the partnership’s first cohorts has yet landed a job in China or Spain, students have found a range of postgrad positions across the world, says Denise Egan, McIntire’s assistant dean for career services.
Egan notes that one 2017 U.S. grad who landed an opportunity in Singapore with Tinkle, an international marketing agency, credits it partly to his knowledge of Asian and European business practices and his experience collaborating on projects through the McIntire program. Other graduates of the inaugural class have landed jobs at Amazon, Google, Marriott International, Rolls-Royce, Tencent, Volvo, GSK and Vodafone.
A growing interest in international degrees has even led to the creation of a new global MBA school – so new it doesn’t even have its own campus yet. The Asia School of Business is a partnership between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management and Bank Negara Malaysia, the central bank of Malaysia. The 82 first- and second-year students currently enrolled represent 21 different countries.
The program is heavily experiential. “We are teaching (students) how to go into a country they’ve never been in before and build a business, build networks,” says Charles Fine, dean of the Asia School of Business and a professor of management at MIT.
The program is based in Kuala Lumpur, where classes currently take place in the central bank’s training center while the campus is being built. Over the course of four to five weeks out of each 14-week semester, student teams travel to different countries in Southeast Asia to work with companies on place-specific projects.
Some recently went to Myanmar, for example, to help Procter & Gamble figure out how to market hair care and skin care products there. Students also spend six weeks in the U.S. They first visit Silicon Valley, the District of Columbia, and New York City; then, they spend about a month in residence at MIT, where they take specially focused classes taught by MIT faculty.
The courses in Malaysia cover typical MBA topics like finance and marketing, but students have to be nimble, as scheduling often depends on when MIT professors are able to travel abroad. A course on finance, for instance, might be broken up into several weeklong modules taught in the fall, winter and spring. MIT faculty split teaching duties with a group of 10 local faculty members, who come from nine different countries.
For now, classes are “almost all aligned with MIT Sloan content and are not particularly Asia-specific,” Fine says, though they will likely become more specialized as the school recruits and develops more professors locally. The language of instruction is English, and no foreign languages are offered yet, though Fine says this may also change as the school grows.
The program lasts 20 months and costs roughly $100,000, including campus housing, travel and lodging costs incurred for the trip to the U.S. Graduates receive an MBA from the ASB and a certificate from MIT Sloan. The traditional two-year MBA at MIT runs about $71,300 a year for tuition and fees alone.
When she learned about the MIT program, Alexandra Hill Snedeker, 27, thought “it was an intriguing opportunity to see a new part of the world,” she says, as well as to become well rounded in management topics and to expand her skills.
She has a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill and was a Venture for America fellow at a series of environmental startups in New Orleans before enrolling. Snedeker says she is going to use the experience to help determine the next steps she wants to take in her career.
While students may miss some of the traditional career opportunities that standard MBA programs might offer, like large and long-established job fairs, 2018 graduate Katherine Robinson, 25, notes that she has gotten more travel and project-based experiences than many students in traditional MBA programs.
“We spend so much time doing hands-on work – being there and going and doing as opposed to being in a classroom,” she says.
What do potential employers make of students who can bring international experience with their degree? “The short answer is, they love it,” says Troy Steece, a project manager at Korn Ferry, an executive search and recruiting firm.
But the particulars of the experience matter. A weeklong study tour will rarely “separate you from the pack” compared with, say, spending a semester abroad and doing an internship, Steece says.
Bonus points if your experience is somewhere your potential employer is growing or has plans to expand. In general, demonstrating substantive experience can really help your resume rise to the top of the pile.