A Narrow Focus

You are special. We are specialists. That’s the current slogan for a local hospital, and it catches my attention every time I hear it. I think it’s effective not just because it plays into the basic human desire to be seen as unique, but because it’s true. While certain conditions can be treated by any well-trained general practitioner, others are so rare that they can be man­aged only by someone with specialized skills.

To some extent, the same is true for businesses. There are certain functions that anyone with a business background should be able to understand, from marketing to accounting to employee management. But each industry and each individual enterprise has its own particular quirks and demands. Some are so specialized that their top executives must have deep expertise in arcane areas if they are to be successful leaders.

Business schools around the world have recognized that trend. In recent years, according to data from AACSB Inter­national, the total number of MBA programs has declined by 8 percent, while the number of specialized master’s programs has increased by more than 10 percent. Additionally, many schools now offer concentrations in high-demand areas such as healthcare and big data, or more rarified fields such as music and wine. In this issue, we look at the changing parameters of graduate business education in “Mastering the Mix.”

A few schools have determined that they can serve students best by zeroing in on specialty topics. At the University of Vermont, the School of Business Admin­istration no longer provides a generalist MBA degree; last year it launched a new program devoted solely to the topic of sustainability. “Going All In” explores why and how the school picked this narrow focus.

The story was a little different at the Yale School of Management, where the healthcare EMBA was attracting fewer students. That trend led administrators to debate whether they should make the program more general. Intensive con­versations with stakeholders convinced them to stay specialized—but diversi­fied. David Bach shares the details in “Bucking the Trend.”

While some deans and administra­tors might believe it’s risky for schools to design niche programs that cater to small potential student pools, AACSB’s new board chair William Glick expects greater market segmentation to be a key feature of management education in the future. That’s only one of the trends he identifies in “Gazing Forward, Looking Back.” Glick, who is the dean of Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business, also expects to see more globalization of programs, continuing evolution of classrooms, and an expan­sion of the business school’s role in society. He believes AACSB is perfectly poised to help members adapt to these trends through accreditation, thought leadership, and value-added service.

AACSB has long encouraged its member schools to focus on what makes them distinctive so they can differen­tiate themselves in a crowded market. As business education veers away from generalization, those distinctive traits will become even more import­ant. Schools will become specialists in turning out graduates that an evolving industry demands.

Sharon Shinn