Cart before the Horse?

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by JimLane, Mar 20, 2002.

  1. JimLane

    JimLane New Member

    I recently caught this article in MBA Jungle and went to their online site to retreive it.

    Knowing Navarro, who has run for politcal office a couple of times in San Diego and gotten, sorta, run out of town, I think he has the cart before the horse. What do you think?


    | SOUNDING OFF | Peter Navarro |

    MBAs Need a Competency Exam: A B-School Bar?

    The only hard part about most MBA programs is getting in, says Peter Navarro, business professor at the University of California–Irvine. And he's pushing a competency exam to set things right.

    Should MBA graduates take a proficiency exam just like architects and lawyers before they are allowed to ply their trade? Absolutely. It would eliminate the conflict of interest that keeps many B-schools from adequately preparing students for their careers.

    After 15 years of teaching in the MBA trenches, I know the conflict intimately. We want to teach you well, but we need good student evaluations to get promoted. Many professors wind up kissing students' rear ends—when they should be kicking them. The result is grade inflation at most MBA programs, including mine in sunny Southern California, where school policy establishes a very high median grade and failure is as rare as rain.

    The tragedy is that so many first-year students enter school expecting to be challenged. When they discover the hardest thing about business school is often just getting in, they are faced with a choice: Go the extra mile and literally master the MBA curriculum or simply cruise for two years and pick up a diploma. Too many take the easy way out.

    Just ask job recruiters—as I have. They are increasingly disenchanted because far too many MBA grads don't have the skills that a degree should ensure—from analyzing a balance sheet or using modern quantitative analysis to parsing complex strategic questions and understanding how macroeconomic events affect the economy and the stock market.

    Recruiters would welcome a competency exam, allowing them to seek the best-performing students, regardless of their school pedigree. Students would therefore strive for knowledge rather than simply a degree. That's not all. Test results could measure the competence of business schools and be included in the ranking of MBA programs. Lastly, results could be used in addition to student evaluations for professors, giving us more incentive to teach MBAs well.

    Of course, I can already hear the squeals from students and B- school deans about such a competency exam. But I say bring on the debate.

    This article originally appeared in the February 2002 issue of MBA Jungle.


    Why the cart before the horse?

    I think we should re-certify every instructor in the classroom first (yes, Andy, that does include you and me and every Tom, Dick and Harriet here) and make sure the house is in order. Get rid of those tenured fogies who haven't updated their skills in years and who have been teaching by rote, make sure the TA's who are teaching class while the prof is out doing research are qualified to teach, and so on before we take on the student's abilities.

    Convenient scapegoating, Peter, convenient. But the fault lies with the professors.

    Of course, you have avoided the consequential element of your proposal and all the evil that will bring: teaching to the competency exam.

    Good thought on your part, but half-a solution at best.

  2. GBrown

    GBrown New Member

    This could be a very interesting research he planning on conducting a pilot? Or is he just spouting off?
  3. I wonder if this would happen? I don't see any evidence that engineering schools, for example, are teaching to the PE exam.
  4. Cooke

    Cooke New Member

    There are gobs of professional certifications in the business area, probably more than in any other profession, including accounting, investments, insurance, valuation, banking, auditing, etc. etc. etc.

    Like the bar exam and the PE, the CPA exam is administered by the individual states. Most other business-related certifications are administered by national professional associations. The bar exam and PE exam are not required of every law or engineering graduate, only those who intend to participate in a public practice. Individuals are free to seek JD, MBA or engineering degrees without taking the exams. There is no reason to establish a mandatory uniform examination for MBAs.

    There is already an ample arsenal of "proof" of professional skill in many business areas for those that need it.
  5. David Boyd

    David Boyd New Member

    An interesting idea. Perhaps it could be used in conjunction with an assessment of how graduates feel about a program three to five years after graduation.

    I've seen posted grades for UCI MBA courses. The average grade was probably an A-.
  6. The IT field also has many specialized certifications. But no general broad-based certification other than the somewhat moribund ICCP. The IEEE Computer Society has seen the need for a more general software engineering certification, and this has led to the recent introduction of the Certified Software Development Professional (CSDP) program. I wonder if a similar non-specialist professional certification program might be useful for MBAs? (This is not my field so I don't know the answer.)
  7. Cooke

    Cooke New Member

    There has been a lot of discussion about the need for a "generalist" business certification. Recently the AICPA (American Institute of CPAs) membership voted down a proposal to add a generalist certification to the already-existing CPA and a number of "CPA-plus" specialty credentials. There is a nascent program called the Certified Business Manager that purports to examine and certify the MBA curriculum - only time will tell if this effort goes anywhere.

    In any event, an across the board mandatory test for MBAs, or any degree discipline, professional or not, doesn't seem necessary. All of the observations related to assessing performance of B-schools, helping recruiters, etc. are interesting, but we don't do this for any other discipline.
  8. BillDayson

    BillDayson New Member

    What does "before they are allowed to ply their trade" mean? If the suggestion is that the government regulate who can and can't manage a business enterprise, I adamantly oppose the suggestion.

    If the suggestion were moderated to the point where it becomes more reasonable, then I would have less objection. Perhaps a professional organization could create some examinations and a certification awarded for their successful completion. MBAs would have the choice whether to take the examinations and employers would have the choice whether to require the certification.

    But management is more than a rote technique. There's an essential element of improvisation and creativity involved. Reducing a management education to A,B and C, and then trying to capture mastery of these elements in a single set of mandatory examinations, is going to necessarily limit what a management education is now and it can be in the future.
  9. JimLane

    JimLane New Member

    Re: Re: Cart before the Horse?

    Have you actually looked? OR are you waiting for an iceberg to drift by? The point being, that because you have not casually seen it, does not mean it does not exist.

    If you have been following the K-12 discourse on competency exams, there is concern about teachers teaching to the exam and not necessarily to the subject. That may be the best model we have for what could happen. I only warn that it is a possibility and that might not be a good outcome of a competency exam for MBAs.

    Interestingly enough, I have several friends who graduated from the University of Tokyo and it is a four-year party. They all said their real education takes place in the companies they work for. To a person, they have said they worked harder to get into the University than they did while in it.

    Maybe US schools are beginning to follow the Japanese model.

  10. Howard

    Howard New Member

    1. It is not really that hard to get into the MBA program. In a quality school, yes, but into some MBA program, no.

    2. The problem, IMHO, is that the MBA program will allow anyone into the, marketing majors, finance majors, but ALSO, engineers, music majors, art majors, and nurses. Very few of the later group have the ability to function in the business world even though they have taken the prerequisite courses such as accounting, marketing, management (usually at the local jr. college) to get into the program.

    If the business schools will change the requirements to get into the MBA to resemble the requirements to get into other majors the people who graduate from the program will be far better suited for jobs in business and industry.

    I look at the curriculum of MBA programs now compared to when I received my degree (1984) after suffering through a BS in Accounting and the courses are basically comic page courses.

    But, the schools are interested in the bottom line......something that used to be taught in the program.....not in making sure the students are suited for the program or that they can function when they get out of the program.

    My $.02 worth.
  11. Andy Borchers

    Andy Borchers New Member

    Jim - The move to outcome assessment in many institutions is leading to competency testing. The ACT folks have "subject area" exams for many undergraduate majors. Recently, they've begun a test for MBAs. Two institutions that I have taught at use competency tests - one uses the ACT subject area test in business as part of their undergrad assessment program while the other is using the ICCP exam in an MSIS program. The later is adding the ACT MBA test as well.

    High quality MBA programs test their incoming students with the GMAT. Although this exam isn't favored by many - it does serve a function in keeping weak students out of strong programs. Now it may be time for the more "open admission" oriented programs to add competency testing on the output side.

    Frankly, I'm all in favor of competency testing of outcoming MBAs. Faculty need to demonstrate their competence as well. In my own case I've pursued two different professional certifications to do this.

    I strongly argue for external measures - such as the ACT or ICCP test - not internally developed measured that are subject to manipulation.

    Have the folks at UoP begun any sort of meaningful outcome assessment program? I realize that they put incoming faculty through some paces before they are allowed to teach. What about outcoming students? Will UoP use the ACT MBA test or another recognized outcome measure to demonstrate that they are doing their job?

    Not to dwell on UoP, but I had an interesting conversation recently at a conference with a person at one of the better known DL PhD programs. She told me that virtually every UoP transcript she saw had a 3.75 or higher GPA. She questioned how this could be so? Is UoP "meeting customer expectations"?

    Thanks - Andy

  12. Jack Tracey

    Jack Tracey New Member

    Hi Howard - As an interested novice in this area I'm curious to know if you think that this applies to schools that require the GMAT for admission? How about schools that are AACSB accredited? Does the AACSB accreditation really separate the men from the boys. Does going through a AACSB program mean something real in terms of post-grad employment prospects?
  13. Howard

    Howard New Member

    Taking the GMAT (my opinion is that there is no correlation between testing and success) and completing an AACSB program are probably not all that significant. If you poll 1,000 people in the business world 900 would not know what either the GMAT or AACSB program was. The AACSB programs may be a little more difficult but IMHO any program can provide the fodder if you are really interested in learning the material.

    UAB (my choice for an MBA [by default] ) required the GMAT & is AACSB and still graduated some dummies -- mostly nurses, educators, music majors, etc. that wanted to move into management. The really scarry thing is some of them are now administrators of hospitals and other large business entities. Want to know why health care is in such sad shape - this is one of the reasons. But lets not get on that soap box.

    I think if you have MBA from a RA school the other aspects are not all that important.
  14. Andy Borchers

    Andy Borchers New Member

    Jack - The GMAT is a major factor at the very best schools - such as Chicago, Harvard, Stanford, etc. They don't use the GMAT to admit students - they use it to deny students. Why? Well, if you are Harvard and you have thousands of applications for a class of 750 students you need some way to say "no". The GMAT is a general aptitude test (not unlike the SAT or ACT) that does separate folks out pretty well. A student with a low GMAT score is quite unlikely to suceed at Harvard.

    For most (if not all) middle tier AACSB schools, the GMAT is required. I suspect part of the reason is to satisfy AACSB and to appear to be a top tier school. Many of these schools admit a large percentage of applicants. The GMAT may be used, however, to weed out the bottom tier of applicants.

    One school I taught at had a flexible admission policy where the GMAT was optional. They admitted students to their MBA program if they had either an undergrad GPA > 3.0 OR a GMAT greater than 550. They reasoned that some students did poorly as undergrads, but as adults may be highly motivated to achieve.

    As for AACSB meaning something - many employers don't know what AACSB means. However, they know which business schools have strong programs. All of the top MBA programs in the US are AACSB accredited. Many of the steps a school takes to achieve AACSB (or ACBSP) accreditiation do improve quality.

    Conclusion - When shopping for an MBA program consider AACSB (or its cousin ACBSP) as a quality factor.

    Thanks - Andy

  15. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    Unfortunately, the GMAT doesn't have a very strong correlation with performance in an MBA program. The Verbal section has an r of .22 while the Quantitative section has an r of .34. While positive, neither correlation takes one's breath away. The r between undergraduate grades and MBA grades is .24, all by itself.

    Taken together, the two GMAT sections add a bit of information regarding the likelihood of good performance in grad school. But at what cost? Perhaps the correlation is stronger when considering only very high GMAT scores (as the elite schools do); I could see that. But this would mean that the test is even closer to being meaningless for less-than-elite schools (which comprise most of the schools requiring the GMAT, BTW.) I agree with Andy that most do it for appearances.

    I've always contended that if the cost of these tests were borne by the schools, not the students (and the students' families), they would dry up and blow away. Only the very top schools can afford to be selective in their admissions; most others admit all qualified candidates. The GMAT, GRE, and even SAT provide very little information about those decisions.

    It is relevant to note that the correlation between the Verbal and Quantitative sections isn't all that great, either: .35. (Remember, the Quantitative section correlates much better to performance than does the Verbal section.)

    It is also relevant to note that the data described above comes from only one of hundreds of studies about this. The ETS will claim higher numbers from the studies they've prepared. There have also been studies reflecting much lower correlations (again, according to ETS).

    Caveat Emptor ;)

    Rich Douglas
  16. David Boyd

    David Boyd New Member

    I challenge you on this conclusion. The point of the Professor's article is that once admitted to an elite program, there is no accountability. Nobody who makes any effort whatsoever is ever dismissed from the Harvard MBA program.

    And, of course, in many elite programs, what family you belong to is as important as who you are. (i.e., Bush, Kennedy, Gore and numerous princes of foreign countries.)

    David L. Boyd
  17. Richards

    Richards New Member

    Hi Andy,

    actually, UoP does have an "exit examination", of sorts, that you take either during your last course (the capstone course) or right after your last course. It is a required exam (they won't give you a diploma without taking the exam), although you are not required to pass it -- which seems kind of stupid to me at least. It is also a very easy exam (either that or I am brilliant, I lean toward "easy exam" myself). I am not sure why they have the exam, I guess it has to do with accredidation requirements or something. They do send you your score in the mail sometime later.

  18. Andy Borchers

    Andy Borchers New Member

    David - I must disagree. I was just at HBS weekend before last. The approach, I understand, is for about 10% of the class being asked not to return the second year. They have to go away for a year or more and then seek approval to return.

    A close friend of mine went through this process. He did graduate in the end. However, he endured the humiliation of being booted.

    As for accounability - you make a point. However, if you take the 750 or so students in an entering class and consider their high GMAT's and GPAs and the process they go through to be admitted - there aren't likely to be many incapable folks in the bunch.

    As for family connections - there may be a handful of folks that get in on that front. But the bulk of students at Harvard, Chicago and Stanford are, frankly, quite brillant folks.

    The point I'm making is that some measurement needs to be taken on MBAs. Harvard does it on the front end. Most mid-tier schools need to measure on the back end of the process.

    Regards - Andy

  19. Andy Borchers

    Andy Borchers New Member

    Thanks Richard, I wasn't aware of this.

    Actually, I'd argue for the need for 3rd party measurements - such as the ACT MBA test, ICCP exam, etc. If not, you end up with the "fox watching the chicken coop".

    Regards - Andy


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