For M.B.A.s, Interest Rate in Education Keeps Going Up

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As the education industry grows, some of the nation's business schools—prompted by their own students—are taking note.

Titles like "Managing in the Education Industry" and "Entrepreneurship and Education" are appearing in some course catalogs.

Student-led education-industry clubs are forming at such top universities as Northwestern, Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Pennsylvania, and Columbia.

Education luminaries like New York City Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew and Peter Cohen, the president of Sylvan Learning Centers, are speaking on B-school campuses.

And a small but growing number of students like 27-year-old Lynn Liao of Stanford University, a former analyst with the elite management consulting firm McKinsey & Co., are pursuing graduate degrees in both education and business.


Katherine O'Regan, an economics professor at the Yale University School of Management in New Haven, Conn., says education is undergoing a "complete shakeout," both in terms of who's providing services and how they're managing them in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

"Now, it's not so surprising to see people go get an M.B.A. when they're interested in education," Ms. O'Regan said. "And that would've seemed really odd 10 years ago."

'Emerging Interest'

Of course, the vast majority of business school students don't wind up in the education industry. They're much more likely to pursue unrelated jobs with blue- chip corporations, investment banks, and consulting firms.

But the fact that even small numbers of students are showing interest in education-related businesses and organizations is worth noting, says Michael J. Bakalis, a former Illinois state schools chief who has taught off and on for 10 years at the J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

"You just didn't see this kind of interest in the '80s," said Mr. Bakalis, who first taught a course on the education industry in 1997.

Many see such interest as part and parcel of business school students' increasing gravitation toward entrepreneurial, start-up, or young companies in a slew of industries, of which education is just a small one.

But some B-schools have started to adapt to this sector of the economy by interacting more with their campus education schools.

At the Harvard Business School, for example, senior lecturer Allen Grossman has noticed a growing number of education students in a course he co-teaches on "Entrepreneurism in the Social Sector."

Mr. Grossman was the chief executive officer of Outward Bound USA for six years until he left in 1997. He started at Harvard as a visiting scholar in the graduate school of education and joined the business school last year.

"I saw an emerging interest from both [education] faculty and students at the intersection between management and the achievement of educational objectives," he said.

Harvard now has put together a concurrent degree program in which students can earn a master's in education and in business administration.

Creating 'Hybrids'

Formal and informal connections between education and business have formed at other leading schools.

Stanford, for example, is starting to list certain courses in both the business school and the school of education. The Palo Alto, Calif., university has seen steady interest in the number of students pursuing concurrent degrees.

Columbia University and Teachers College offer a joint degree program for students pursuing a doctorate in education and an M.B.A., and are currently working to create a similar program for a master's in education.

Lisa A. Petrides, a professor of management systems at Teachers College, says that in recent months she's seen a spike of interest in the joint education-business program, which she directs. Some 20 students have enrolled in the program in the past five years.

The program is intended to help graduates wind up in private foundations, government, nonprofit organizations, or for-profit businesses related to education. The program produces what Ms. Petrides calls "hybrids" like herself. She holds a doctorate in education from Stanford and an M.B.A. from Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, Calif.

"Traditionally, there's been a real disconnect between the education and business sectors, with not a lot of trust on either side," Ms. Petrides said. "We're trying to train the person who can walk the line between the two, and really benefit both."

Like Lynn Liao at Stanford, who co-chairs the student-led group Partnership for Education and plans to graduate with nine others in June with both an M.B.A. and a master's in education.

Ms. Liao, whose resume includes nonprofit and corporate work experience, says she's never been interested in being a teacher. It wasn't until she went to the San Francisco-based nonprofit group Partners in School Innovation in 1997 that she became drawn to education issues.

"I wasn't really sure where I belonged, in the public or private sector," Ms. Liao said. "I realize now that there are so many more opportunities where you can feel like you're affecting education outcomes, but you're not a teacher or administrator."

Ms. Liao is trolling for jobs in for-profit companies working in the K-12 market and believes the dual degree gives her an edge.

"The M.B.A. makes the biggest difference," she said. "But the education degree says I've made a commitment to this area."

Nonprofit vs. For-Profit

Some recent business school grads with the education itch have become investment bankers specializing in education, launched charter schools, or joined one of the slew of online start-up companies offering education-related services such as tutoring.

Gillian Darlow, who graduated from Stanford last spring with education and business degrees, opted to go the nonprofit route, working for Chicago's Field Museum as a business manager for the natural history museum's environmental and conservation programs, which include outreach to schools.

The 32-year-old says she considered pursuing jobs at one of the for-profit education management companies, but opted against it for now.

"I'm just not really sure how I feel about them yet," she said.

Matt Candler, a former teacher who, along with a Northwestern classmate, earned one of the business school's first concentrations in education management in 1998, started his own company. LearningNext LLC, based near Charlotte, N.C., offers education management and consulting services for K-12 through adult education.

Mr. Candler, 30, says he fully realizes the for-profit piece of the education industry makes some uneasy.

"But if I can set an example and say you can make good money doing this—and, by the way, you're innovating—a secondary effect, hopefully, is drawing more top people into the education industry," Mr. Candler said. "It totally bums me out when I hear people say, 'Well, I really like education but I need to make my million first.' And then you talk to them five years later, and they've never gone to education."

He says his personal test is to balance "Matt the teacher and Matt the manager."

"Looking forward, as I move away from the classroom, my question to myself is 'Am I still making an impact on kids? And is the teacher side of me still happy?' "

Vol. 19, Issue 14, Page 17

Published in Print: December 1, 1999, as For M.B.A.s, Interest Rate in Education Keeps Going Up
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