Lessons From B-School: Don’t Take Your Relevance for Granted

The professor jerked her head back in horror in response to what I had just said. She composed herself and responded.
“Is Twitter a drug?”

I explained Twitter. Enthusiastically. Not a drug, but possibly addictive. She rolled her eyes.

It was an organizational behavior course offered during Spring 2009, a general education requirement that will be applied to my MBA (still in progress). This exchange happened during a class discussion focused on the forces that are changing organizational communication. I mentioned social media, specifically Yammer. I compared it to Twitter. Her reaction was ignorant, at best.

Sometimes the greatest lessons that we can learn from our professors are the ones that they didn’t intend to teach us.

In this case, I was reminded that one’s relevance is a personal responsibility. Learning never stops. When learning stops, so does growth. When growth stops, why should you deserve to have a seat at the table? This is true of all industries, but higher education has a much greater responsibility because they are in the business of learning and knowledge. The biggest mistake is taking relevance for granted.

After all, for the 2009-2010 academic year, tuition increased 4.4% and 6.5% over last year’s rates at private and public 4-year institutions respectively. Social media gives today’s students more access to information and the people that can give them real world experience in their field than ever before. Pair that with the lessened availability of financial aid, and you have a group of students more value-driven than ever. These students will ask themselves if high tuition and long-term debt is really worth it. This situation makes students even more critical of the content being presented in the classroom.

I believe that challenging times are ahead for those universities that take for granted their relevance and fail to evolve. Universities will need to compete, not only with other institutions, but with the option of not purchasing formal knowledge in the first place.



  1. This post reminded me of a Washington Monthly article I read last year called “College for $99 a Month” (http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/college_guide/feature/college_for_99_a_month.php), which talked about new ways to deliver education much less expensively than our current setup.

    My own B-school experiences haven’t been exactly the same (the story you tell is a pretty smack-my-head bad one), but I’ve had a few situations where I’m frustrated by the lack of updated material. I’d also like to have professors integrate more “what’s happening now” stuff into courses.

    I do think a valuable part of the MBA experience is meeting new people and developing networks that you might not have had before, which I believe is worth a premium. But, one day soon, that premium isn’t going to be a $20,000 one.

    • Yes, this story was an extreme case (in my experience). I agree that professors need integrate more current material into their syllabi, but the problem is that they aren’t feeling a sense of urgency to modify the lesson plans that they’ve used for years and administration is prohibited from mandating that they make adjustments.

      Networking is almost always the real point, right? Conferences, trade shoes, happy hours. I think the day has already arrived where you don’t have to invest $20k to meet the right folks though. That’s what Brazen Careerist is for, isn’t it? 🙂

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