The Wall Street Journal

Is Business School Worth It? How MBA Programs Are Revamping in 2019

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Applications to MBA programs across the U.S. are declining. WSJ's Jason Bellini traveled to Boston University's Questrom Business School to hear from students who explain why the investment is worth it.

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There's a lot of buzz around self-driving cars, but autonomous-driving technology could revolutionize a different industry first — construction. That industry hasn't changed much over the last several decades, according to some experts, making it an ideal candidate for automation.

"The way we build today is largely unchanged from the way we used to build 50 years ago," said Gaurav Kikani, vice president of Built Robotics. "Within two years, I think we're really going to turn the corner, and you're going to see an explosion of robotics being used on construction sites."

The industry is also faced with a labor shortage that the Covid-19 pandemic has further complicated.

"Covid is making people step back and say, ‘hey, the way we've been doing things for a long time is just not sustainable,'" said Kevin Albert, founder and CEO of Canvas. "It is just a wake-up call for the industry."

Canvas is one of several companies working on autonomous construction technology. Big players like Caterpillar and Komatsu, and start-ups like SafeAI and Built Robotics, see value in using autonomous machines to accelerate construction projects.

The mining industry was one of the first to employ the use of self-driving tech. Caterpillar began its first autonomy program more than 30 years ago. The company now has the largest fleet of autonomous haul trucks. Caterpillar says it's hauled 2 billion metric tons in just over six years.

Built Robotics is a San Francisco-based start-up founded by an ex-Google engineer that already has machinery out in the field. It's automated several pieces of equipment, such as bulldozers and excavators.

"You can now collapse your construction timeline so you can knock out work overnight so that it's ready for your human workers in the morning to speed them along," Kikani said.

SafeAI is another Silicon Valley start-up. It recently teamed up with Obayashi for a pilot program. It's been retrofitting equipment like dump trucks, bulldozers and loaders.

Robots are also helping inside. San Francisco-based Canvas created an autonomous machine for finishing drywall and has worked on projects like the San Francisco International Airport and Chase Arena. Humans work alongside its robotic system.

"Drywall is very hard work on the body," Albert said. "And we've seen that 1 out of every 4 workers has to end their career early because of injuries. This will create longer careers for people and also enable people to join the trades that haven't had access before."

The construction industry is one of the largest sectors in the global economy, with about $10 trillion spent each year. That spending accounts for 13% of the world's GDP, even though the sector's annual productivity growth has only increased 1% over the past 20 years. According to McKinsey & Co., $1.6 trillion of additional value could be created through higher productivity, and autonomy would help the industry achieve that.

… show captions ↓
(bright music)
- I'm mostly looking for a flexibility,
since I am a working professional.
- I think the network is a huge factor.
- I feel like an MBA for me is a second chance.
- [Narrator] Is an MBA worth it?
It's a question that many prospective students,
like these, are asking themselves.
Until recently, getting an MBA was considered
a relatively safe bet, one likely to yield
a big bump in salary.
But in recent years, applications to programs
across the country are down.
Why, that's not entirely clear.
Some point to the strong economy, others to rising costs.
But what is certain is that schools are beginning
to change as a result.
(slow bass music)
The Questrom School of Business at Boston University,
ranked 36th last year among two year MBA programs,
recently made headlines when it announced
an alternative to its, roughly,
$55,000 a year Residential Program.
A new online MBA had a ticket price
far lower than its competitors.
- We plan to launch in the Fall of 2020
an MBA degree priced at 24,000
and available only online on the edX platform.
It's an MBA degree, but the product is completely different
than what you would get in the full time MBA, on campus.
It's a completely different product designed
for a different audience that has different lives,
different needs, so they don't have six years experience,
they have beyond 10 years experience.
They're much more seasoned, and the MBA allows them
to advance in the career they're in.
- One of the challenges your facing,
and many business schools are facing nation wide,
decline in applicants.
- Yes, nation wide the applications for MBA are down.
They've been down at different levels in different schools
for almost five years now.
- What about your school?
- We were down as well, but not as significantly as others.
- How much were you down?
- In the MBA we were down, this year, 18%.
(bright music)
- [Narrator] The school's dean, Susan Fournier,
says, "Her MBA program was able to fill its incoming class
"with qualified students."
But, she also saw a need for something new.
I was curious was Questrom's current full-time students
thought about this declining interest in their degrees.
- How many of you are confident that five years from now
it'll have been worth it?
- [Narrator] Meet Nari, Airian, Michael,
Carolyn, Saeid and Danesh.
Each of these full-time Questrom students
has a different background and a different career goal,
but they're all confident that their MBA degree
will help them take their careers to the next level.
- Do you ever have moments when you ask yourself,
is it worth it?
- Yes I do. - Saeid, you do?
- Yeah, it's because the opportunity cost for me
is really high.
- You're a doctor.
- Yeah, I had those moments, but when I sit in a class
and I hear some new concepts, some new lessons,
and it's like eye opening to me, wow, this is what
this happen to us, or this what, this is happening.
I just say, this is the right time to be here,
this is the right place for you.
- Carolyn, you've never questioned
whether it's worth it or not?
- When I hear conversations like this,
I think a lot of it depends on where you were before,
and it sounds like some people were really in a job
that they really saw themselves in
and felt deeply entrenched.
For me I really wanted a big change,
and I didn't know what that change would be,
so I feel like I was the perfect person to leave
and be excited about being here to reset and relearn.
- [Narrator] Today, Questrom also offers
a variety of specialized MBAs.
There's the Social Impact MBA,
the MBA plus MS in Digital Technology,
and the Health Sector MBA.
- Half way through my undergraduate degree in biochemistry
I realized I didn't wanna do the academic thing,
but I did wanna make an impact
in the health sector in life sciences,
and so I thought, the best way of doing that
was to kind of, follow the money.
- As an engineer, you're limited in your career choices.
As an engineer MBA, the door opens.
And so now I have the technical expertise
and I know how it translates into the dollar math.
- Have you all heard about the online program
that BU just announced?
You know it's not gonna cost quite as much
as what you're paying for here at the residential program?
Do you feel like, if that was offered to you
as an alternative, would you have said,
I'm gonna stay at home, save some money.
- I was considering going to an online program
when I was applying,
but decided against it for a few reasons.
One is, definitely the experience.
You get to actually meet people. (laughs)
It's a huge part of the value that I saw in the degree.
- When they start offering MBAs to people
through an online program, does that dilute the value
of your degree?
- It's something I'm concerned about,
but having a more specialized degree,
having it specifically in health sector,
I think it helps me a little bit more.
- You're here because you wanna get more
than just the education out of it,
and that's the biggest thing that sets the regular MBA
from the online MBA part.
- Really ask yourself, what would enable me to pick--
- In terms of academic knowledge that one gains
through a residential program, the two year program,
can you get all that in an online program?
- You won't get the ability to go deep and to specialize.
- Can you learn leadership in an online course?
- Yes. - You can?
- Yes, but you can't go as deep as you might
if you took a whole other year
and took nothing but leadership courses.
- Is this a good time to be a dean of a business school?
- It's really a test for how to manage a business.
- This is a business.
- It is a business, and you know, we provide products
that meet people's needs and the market is very,
it's very dynamic.
- By dynamic you mean there's less demand for it now?
- No, dynamic meaning it's evolving a lot.
It's challenged in some ways.
There are some cultural trends that challenge business,
overall, challenge higher ed, so you really have to know
the astute business analysis of your case.
I'd say 50 years ago, you know, you had two products,
an undergrad, an MBA, you were good to go.
Some schools today have one product.
We have 10 products, because the market is very complex.

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