Today's graduate business program, even a good online M.B.A. program, is undergoing what some experts tout as nothing less than revolutionary change.

Your team's assignment: Help the members of a rural dairy cooperative find a cheaper way to bring their products to market. Sound like a typical M.B.A. project? If you answered yes, you pass.

Today's graduate business program, even a good online M.B.A. program, is undergoing what some experts tout as nothing less than revolutionary change. In response to new competitive demands on corporations and increasing globalization—both of which require tomorrow's business leaders to be flexible and manage workforces and internal structures that cross cultural and political lines—graduate-level business programs, especially the top M.B.A. programs, are diversifying and redefining themselves.

The Basic M.B.A. Degree—And Then Some

You'll still graduate with a firm grounding in the staples of business education—finance, strategy, operations management, marketing, and the like—but your M.B.A. courses will also teach you how to work in teams, how to motivate others, and how to see the "big picture" when solving problems. Strong communication and interpersonal skills are just as important in today's new graduate-level business programs as technical knowledge and the ability to "crunch numbers."

"There's more churning going on right now in management education than at any time in 35 years," says Charles W. Hickman, former director of projects and services at AACSB International, which accredits M.B.A. programs in the United States. "The emphasis today is changing from teaching to learning," Hickman notes.

"The front-end-load module, where you dump 2 years of education into a student's head and then sew it up, is over," he continues. "The world is moving too fast. Companies want M.B.A. graduates to know how to learn, because lifelong learning is the key to success for practicing managers and executives. The graduate-level business degree is not an end in itself. It positions the degree-holder for a variety of general management positions."

Top M.B.A. Programs Find Themselves in the Midst of a Changing Landscape

The days when the graduate of an M.B.A. program could dazzle the boss with only a few mentions of decision trees, regression analysis, net present value, and agency theory are gone. You'll still learn these concepts, but you'll be synthesizing them into a broader skill set.

Dennis J. Weidenaar, professor of economics at the Krannert Graduate School of Management at Purdue University, calls it the "new management environment." He says it is characterized by "teamwork and alliances, continuous changes in technologies, globalization, and networks that are in instantaneous communication with each other."

For a Top M.B.A. Program, Change is Now

How does an M.B.A. program go about preparing you to succeed in today's business environment? Depending on the specific emphasis of the program, the top M.B.A. programs offer the following elements:

  • Cross-functional, interdisciplinary curricula
  • Global perspectives
  • Increased student and faculty diversity
  • Teamwork, teamwork, and more teamwork
  • Richer learning environment
  • Greater use of learning technologies
  • More applied learning
  • Strategic alliances
  • Customer focus