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The MBA Comes of Age

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(ARA) - More than 100,000 Americans are currently enrolled in MBA programs throughout the United States. Many of them believe that once they’ve earned it, the MBA credential will “open doors.” The trouble is that most traditional MBA programs produce book-smart -- not street-smart -- graduates.

“The skills that are vital to good managers are the hardest to teach,” says Barbara Butts-Williams, faculty director of Capella University’s MBA program.

“Often you’ll see companies sending their MBA grads back to school for executive leadership programs designed to fill the gaps because their MBA grads don’t have what it takes to execute in the real world.” By definition, what it takes to be a good manager is the ability to get work done through other people.

But most B-school programs are devoted to the study of theory. When graduates arrive in the real world of business -- the world of people and conflict and change -- they discover that knowing how it’s done isn’t the same as doing it.

“A great manager is able to harness the spirit and energy of employees to meet organizational goals,” says Williams. Capella University, an accredited online university headquartered in Minneapolis, has taken a revolutionary approach to the MBA by adding a hands-on component to its program.

The innovative “professional effectiveness core” of the Capella MBA includes courses in leading teams, managing change and negotiating for results. Each course requires weekly “action” assignments that oblige the learner to apply new skills to situations in the workplace.

“Many adult-oriented MBAs promise students that their courses will be relevant to the workplace. But they don’t provide a clear mechanism for transferring knowledge into practice,” says Shelley R. Robbins, executive director of Capella University’s School of Business.

“Because most of our MBA students are working professionals, their workplace serves as the clinical component of the program where students can experiment and refine new skills. There is no interval between learning and practice.

” The most significant change in Capella’s approach to the MBA is the addition of executive coaching. Once reserved for top brass to resolve the “personality issues” of otherwise successful leaders, coaching began in the 1950s as a blend of organizational development and psychology to help executives modify unproductive behaviors.

Today, personal coaching is used to help managers plan and implement development strategies after identifying their own strengths and weaknesses through a variety of assessment tools. Coaches provide honest feedback and help students stretch in their current position as well as reposition them for the next career move.

“Managers don’t need coaching to improve their writing skills or to interpret a P&L with more aptitude. They need coaching to get straightforward perspective on how to improve their relationship and motivational skills,” says Williams.

B-schools rarely require the sort of self-assessment that the Capella MBA does and even fewer offer the benefit of coaching feedback. Students in the Capella MBA receive feedback from peers, faculty members, colleagues and mentors.

“Most managers don’t get this kind of feedback until it’s too late,” says Williams. “This program gives managers who are at the beginning and middle of their careers an opportunity to become change agents in the organization by making a genuine impact.”

The Capella MBA was developed as a result of a study in which analysts for Capella asked hiring executives and human resource specialists from 40 top organizations to provide a list of qualities that describe the ideal manager.

Today, the Capella MBA offers a core curriculum that focuses on traditional business principles and professional effectiveness, as well as a unique one-on-one coaching component to help individuals build the qualities defined in the study. Since the launch of the Capella MBA, companies such as Honeywell and U.S.

Bank have participated in employee “cohorts,” in which groups of employees who work together enroll simultaneously in the program. Honeywell measured operational gains and efficiencies totaling $1.2 million during the first year of the program. Capella University is the first accredited online university to offer the master’s in business administration.

Today, more than 660 companies acknowledge the value of a Capella education by providing tuition reimbursement for their employees. Founded in 1993, Capella University is a member of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA).

It is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, the same body that accredits top business universities in the Midwest, such as the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan.

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