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While the discussion may be less heated than in recent years, grade disclosure and the associated policies are relevant to MBA students. The debate consists of the following arguments for and against grade disclosure:

- Grade non-disclosure policies (GND) enhance student collaboration and promote extra curricular activities which in turn promote networking opportunities
- Grade disclosure policies (GD) promote rigorous academics. When grades “do not matter,” students may become lazy and the atmosphere may become less competitive

In most circumstances, the supporters of GND are the student bodies, and the supporters of GD are the professors and administrators. The majority of America’s top B-schools seem to have either a GD or voluntary GD policy, where students may share grades with potential employers voluntarily. Now, let’s look at the four schools’ policies and the debate surrounding them:

University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)

Wharton, a member of the top three B-schools on many lists, seems to house the most heated grade policy debate. Prior to 1998, the school had a GD, but the student body overwhelmingly supported a GND. The logic behind those opinions follows pretty closely the logic above. Amazingly, during a 2006 vote to amend the school’s policy, students voted in favor of GND by 94%, with 84% participation.

Wharton has adopted a voluntary disclosure policy, where students are free to share their grades, but are not required to.


Harvard’s grade disclosure policy is especially interesting due to their somewhat unorthodox grading system. As of 2005, students are free to discuss grades in job interviews or other circumstances with potential employers. The administrators have stated that this policy makes them consistent with other business schools and undergraduate programs, as well as the rest of Harvard University. As stated earlier, grade disclosure is designed to promote high quality academics. According to an article in the Harvard Crimson, a school official stated that disclosing grades is also consistent with being a successful business leader: businesses are constantly trying to quantify progress, development and develop ways to measure their performance.

Harvard’s grading system may also necessitate GD being implemented. Harvard’s grading system works by using three categories, rather than an A-F scale. Approximately 75% of HBS students occupy category II status, with the rest occupying category 1 (top tier) and 3 (bottom of the class). The combination of “grades not mattering” and Harvard’s grading system could be deadly to academic morale: the likelihood of being in category 1 is so slim that students may as well just stick with category 2. On the other hand, it is unlikely that they will fail out, which means many MBA students can squeeze by.


Stanford’s administration does not have a particular policy, but the student body policy is non-disclosure. There is an astonishing 99% compliance rate among students.

Both sides of the grade disclosure debate have sound arguments and valid points. It also seems that the only possible compromise is the one that some schools have already put into effect: a policy of voluntary disclosure. The students who feel that it is within their right to withhold grades from employers are free to do so. If the employer demands such information (which they may) the student will have a difficult choice to make, one that very closely reflects many decisions – operational, managerial, and ethical – made in the business world: How do I optimize the result with minimal compromise?

Final Thoughts

On one hand, grades are an important indicator of one’s personal achievement. However, on the other hand, how you translate your learning into behaviors and actions in real life is a better indicator of both achievement and character.

Maybe grade disclosure should carry more importance in college than graduate schools. Different majors should put different level of emphasis on grade disclosure as well. The grade disclosure policy could vary depending on course types, i.e., cores vs. electives.

Graduate business schools focus on practical knowledge and skills, not pure arts or science. A student’s integral ability should have a higher correlation to his/her future success. Certain qualities can not be quantified by grades, in particular, managerial talents such as decision-making abilities, sound judgment, ability to outperform in face of adversity and leadership. Nonetheless, analytical abilities can certainly be tested out and measured by grades.

Posted on March 11, 2008 by Manhattan Review

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Today is a continuation of our ongoing examination of the recent changes at top business schools around the United States.

On the radar today:

MIT Sloan

Stanford Graduate School of Business

MIT Sloan Gains Fresh Perspective

MIT Sloan is actively attempting to raise its profile and become a more recognizable institution. During his recent interview with Business Week Online, Sloan’s Dean David Schmittlein discussed various unique opportunities to make the program more recognizable and to develop a tighter connection with world business leaders.

Some of the changes the school plans to make include the following:

  • Customize the curriculum to the needs of learners
  • Make the program more relevant to medium term career goals
  • Add a number of new degree programs

Similar to many top Business Schools, Sloan is working hard to develop new engagements around the world. Sloan anticipates many announcements to surface about their updated relationships with global business leader within the next six months

Maintaining a Competitive Edge

MIT wants to become a more competitive program in the face of rising challenges and rising interest from students worldwide in getting an MBA. MIT is striving to increase its value on the “B-School Market”, with a number of key points that they believe separate them from the rest of elite B-Schools:

  • Management education is not only about the MBA
  • Advances in strategy and consulting
  • Building on the strength of entrepreneurship and innovation
  • Family based institutions

Stanford Seeks to Go Green and Turn Socially Conscious

Stanford has also launched a new curriculum. An interesting aspect of this curriculum is a new class called Critical Analytical Thinking:

  • Designed to develop the student’s ability to construct a strong argument
  • Learn how to take a tough topic and make an argument about it in a very short period of time.
  • Done in a small group; students are instructed to mutually critique each other’s work
  • The student’s teacher becomes the student’s personal advisor

New Campus, Same Values

The new campus for Stanford’s Graduate School of Business will be exclusively green and provide the comfort of California style architecture, integrating indoor and outdoor environments. The new campus will reflect the new changes within curriculum. The campus and building will also provide the students with flexibility in learning as more seminar rooms are built which facilitate working in small teams. According to the school’s website, $100,000,000 USD of Nike CEO Phil Knight’s donation will be put towards the new $275,000,000 USD campus. The project, called the Knight Management Center, breaks ground this year and the new campus will replace the old business school’s outdated infrastructure. The campus will be shared with other schools in the university via the innovative multi-disciplinary courses that Stanford Graduate School of Business are introducing into their curriculum.

These requirements for flexibility and collaborative learning come together in a course called “Innovations in Bio-Design.” The student make-up for that course, according to the dean, is 1/3 Business, 1/3 Medical School, and 1/3 engineering. The course is based on developing a Bio-Design idea and creating a business model for it. Thus, the students must work together due to the disparate nature of the disciplines involved.

Such a course reflects Stanford’s focus on business “not existing in a vacuum,” according to Dean Rovert Joss: Stanford’s new business curriculum takes social, environmental and other non-market situations seriously and considers its institution to be a center for social innovation. Stanford’s curriculum embodies the idea that business and social awareness are not mutually exclusive.

Changing Faces and Strong Values

MIT Sloan and Stanford’s updated MBA programs both reflect similar ideas about how business education fit with culture and the environment. Both programs embody the idea that business must coexist within the environment and the global landscape while business education must reflect that coexistence. Additionally, the way that an MBA fits with a student’s future must be accounted for within the education itself.

Lastly, the schools discussed both today and yesterday are making their curricula more student-focused. These programs are striving to strengthen the value of an MBA degree by exposing students to how business operates in the real world and most of all, helping students to be prepared (and employed) when graduation finally comes around.

During the recent two years, many business schools have revamped or retooled the curriculum of their MBA programs . This is designed to better prepare students to manage and thrive on new challenges in an ever-changing global business world through a more profound intellectual experience and more effective training on leadership development. These modifications allow students to customize their MBA programs with a greater selection of electives, an increased number of half-semester core courses, more exchange programs for studying aboard, smaller classes, a closer integration of in-person and online class participation, and more week-long intensive courses.

Deeper, Smaller, Broader

So what are those key improvements? In a nutshell, MBA curriculums have been remodeled in 4 major aspects:

1.) Content – More real-world relevant courses, more interdisciplinary courses (such as legal and international relations courses), and more collaborative effort – Harvard Business School, for example, offers the opportunity to cross-register for courses in other select graduate programs. So do many other top business schools. More extra-curricular lectures from business professionals and on-site projects with corporations or governments.

2.) Configuration – Broader spectrum of electives allow you to construct your own study program and make your B-school academic experience unique. The weight of core courses as requirements for the degree is lowering. Many core courses are also offered in half-semesters to let you take many different courses within a semester’s time. For example, about half of Columbia Business School’s core courses are half-semester.

3.) Delivery – More high-tech equipped classrooms with more frequent use of the Internet. Smaller class sizes. Classes are taught in seminars that maximize active participation and deeper intellectual involvement. More courses are taught by two or more faculty members as a team.More interaction with faculty advisors. For example, at Stanford Graduate School of Business, your faculty advisor partners with you to select the courses that fit with your personal background and interests.

4.) Format – New curriculum models. For example, Yale’s MBA program did away with the traditional self-contained subject courses such as marketing, finance, and organizational behavior. Instead it starts to offer an Integrated Leadership Perspective course focusing on managing internal and external parties such as all levels of employees, customers, competitors, and investors. The goal is to tie together all that students learned in the first year in a holistic manner.

What prompted these changes?

Many top-rated business schools had not developed new MBA programs in nearly 30 years. Why all the changes now?The major reason for the changes is one framework of business education simply won’t work anymore. Interdisciplinary studies and experience-based learning foster the kind of creativity, leadership, problem-solving skills, critical and independent thinking, business ethics, and cultural sensitivity necessary to succeed in real-world business.

The impact of the dot-com era and an increasingly dynamic, global economy are two main catalysts for curriculum changes. MBA programs now incorporate more courses specifically geared toward e-commerce, digital media, and information technology. Programs also look beyond textbooks to incorporate more interactive learning into the classroom. The growing significance of communication in a global context also translates into a stronger emphasis on foreign language study and traveling abroad within MBA curriculum.

Finally, many top business schools have changed due to new dean and program director appointments in the past few years. These new personnel bring years of experiences, fresh perspectives, and great initiatives to instill new energy into well-established institutions in a competitive and adaptive MBA education world.

What Is Required of the Schools?

To take the program to the next level, those schools need significant funding from their respective parent institutions to support new facility, new equipment, increase in faculty and more. Both Stanford and Columbia are in the midst of expanding their business school campuses.As we can see, a lot of more work is ahead for all the top institutions. To educate next century’s business leaders, all the business schools need to stay at the forefront of the changes.

Posted on December 10, 2007 by Manhattan Review

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