Is there any advanced degree more worthless than the MBA?
My wife and I went to the same elite business school, and she jokes that I'm the only person there who learned anything, because I was actually interested in the content of the program and not the credential. Indeed, there's nothing you learn at a top MBA program that someone smart and driven enough to get into a top MBA program can't learn on his or her own. The world would be much better off if these people spent these years working productively instead of racking up debt.
But, ah, the credential. The alumni network. These things are real, and they matter, and we can't wish them away. Yes, it is true that a good business degree opens doors that otherwise wouldn't be opened, and that they have alumni networks that make a professional life easier. Still, these upsides do not justify business school in and of themselves.
Many members of the commentariat are somewhat obsessed over the idea that the internet is disrupting higher education, allowing you to take courses online, for much less money, and probably learning more. This trend is debatable, but assuming for the sake of argument that it is real, it's easy to see that business school will be the last to be disrupted, precisely because its appeal is not in teaching you anything, but instead in the credential and the network. Any "massively open" online business school is, by definition, not going to be able to compete with Wharton on those fronts, no matter how good its finance courses.
However, this does not mean business schools cannot be disrupted.
Let's look at another trend: startup accelerators. Pioneered by Y Combinator in Silicon Valley, and with several other successful ones like SeedCamp and TechStars, these outfits take in batches of young people, make them work like hell on their startup project for a few months, mentor them closely, and then release them into the world. In exchange, they take a piece of equity in the company, which might end up being worth nothing, or might end up being worth a whole hell of a lot.
People used to wonder whether startup accelerators would disrupt the traditional venture capital model. In fact, the opposite has happened. Because accelerators fund their progeny meagerly, they are a great source of deal flow for venture capitalists, and have actually been a boon to that industry.
But increasingly, it looks like accelerators are disrupting a seemingly unrelated industry — business schools. More and more, when young, bright, driven, money-hungry young people find themselves a bit aimless and looking for a challenge, they don't apply to Harvard Business School — they apply to Y Combinator.
Credential? Check. If you go to a top accelerator, that will open doors for you. In Silicon Valley, it will probably open more doors than a Harvard MBA.
Network? Double check. The top accelerators have alumni in the top perches of their industry, eager to mentor young graduates.
Accelerators should embrace this identity, and drive a stake through the heart of business school.
Obviously, society is better off when our talented, ambitious, young people aren't paused for two years, saddled with debt, and then channeled through boring (and probably socially destructive) jobs in consulting and on Wall Street; when instead, we put their feet in the entrepreneurial stirrups.
If I wanted to disrupt business schools, I would start an accelerator explicitly pitched at potential applicants to the top MBA programs.
To make this successful, first, you have to realize that not everybody wants to be an internet entrepreneur. Inc magazine's yearly list of America's 5,000 fastest-growing companies shows that high-growth entrepreneurial companies exist in every sector. So this isn't an accelerator strictly for techies.
People would apply to the accelerator either with a company they've started, or with their resume if they haven't started a company. Entrepreneurs would get mentorship along the lines of what existing accelerators already offer. The company-less participants would be rotated through companies in our network in six-month internships, complemented with a heavy, internet-based courseload. The interns would be paid partially by the company, and partially by taking out a revenue-based loan.
Companies in the network would have access to mentorship, exclusive conferences, support, and so on. I would start in a big city like New York, and then branch out.
Wouldn't you rather do that than go to business school?