Why Harvard, Stanford & Tuck Shun the Executive MBA

Last Updated May 6, 2011 12:04 PM EDT

If you're looking at rankings of Executive MBA programs to decide which one to attend, the first question you're likely to have is this one: Where in the world are the Harvard Business School, the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Dartmouth's Tuck School? Together, those institutions are three of the top six business schools in the U.S., if not the world.

It's a good question because the decisions over many years not to have an executive program have cost Harvard and Stanford hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue, funding that could be used to hire more faculty, conduct more research, and further build on the stellar reputations of these institutions. If either school had programs as successful as The Wharton School, for example, each would have brought in more than $300 million in additional funds in the past ten years alone.

For either school that would be a substantial amount of money for a business school. The largest single gift Stanford's business school has ever received was the 2006 commitment by alum Philip Knight, founder of Nike, for $105 million. Wharton's two EMBA programs in Philadelphia and San Francisco currently generate more than $35 million in annual revenue.

So what gives? Essentially, Harvard, Stanford and Tuck believe that an alternating weekend version of the degree for full-time executives would somehow dilute their full-time MBA programs which all have premium brand images. "There is no doubt Executive MBA programs are lucrative and not that difficult (for an established business school) to deliver," agrees Paul Danos, dean of Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business. "Tuck considered such programs over the years, but we always pulled back for several reasons, including the possible dilution effect on the full-time program and the possible loss of focus.

"We did not need it from a financial point of view, and our growth strategy has come from increasing the full-time program a bit, by expanding executive education, by growing endowment and annual giving and by participating in a variety of on-campus joint educational efforts at Dartmouth and other schools," adds Danos. "By all of these means, we have been able to improve and grow our faculty while keeping a high focus on the full-time MBA."

Stanford, too, has considered the possibility of an Executive MBA over the years, always deciding against it. "At Stanford, the notion of an EMBA has come up periodically," says Stanford Dean Garth Saloner. "Our alumni have consistently told us that they believe the Stanford MBA Program, with its relatively small student body size and personal attention is a differentiating feature of the Stanford experience."

Saloner doesn't believe a shorter executive version would allow the school to deliver the same experience. Adds Saloner: "The EMBA is certainly one way to receive a grounding in management education, but for now we believe that the full-time, two-year Stanford MBA is a very transforming experience for students in terms of their way of thinking, the impact they are able to have in their lives, acquiring analytical skills, and the lifelong relationships they develop with each other and faculty here."

It's pretty much the same story at Harvard. "In the HBS learning model, the importance of day-to-day interaction between professors and students as well as students and students, both inside and outside the classroom, is essential," says Jim Aisner, director of media relations. "Thus, our MBA program is a two-year immersion experience--all the more so because most of our students reside on campus. We don't think the benefits of this kind of experience can be accomplished in a program that would bring students here for only a few days at a time each week."

Of course, Harvard does have its well-known Advanced Management Program (AMP) which brings executives on campus for a full eight weeks at a cost of $64,000. It's likely that a Harvard Executive MBA program would greatly limit the audience for school's AMP program which has been running since 1945. The school, of course, also has a large menu of other executive education coursesâ€"though none of them involve the granting of the MBA degree. "For executives," adds Aisner, "we offer a large and varied portfolio of executive education certificate programs that focus on both general management and specialized topics, lasting from several days to a number of weeks and taught by full-time HBS faculty members."

Stanford, on the other hand, continues to offer a 10.5-month Sloan Masters Program, which awards an MS in management science, for seasoned executives. Saloner also notes that this year Stanford also launched a new 20-week, certificate evening program, the Program in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, for working professionals in engineering and the sciences as well as for current graduate students at Stanford University. "This is a compelling way to bring working professionals and nonâ€"business graduate students together to learn business fundamentals while they investigate, evaluate, and actualize their ideas," says Saloner. "If we were to one day offer an EMBA it would only be because we thought we had figured out how to offer the same level of personal transformation that we believe we achieve in our full-time MBA program."

Tuck, meantime, is planning to offer a new hybrid program, with face-to-face learning blended with distance learning technology, to working professionals in health care. The degree will be a master's in Health Care Delivery Science, which will be a joint venture between the Dartmouth Medical School and Tuck.

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image courtesy of flickr user, Patricia Drury
Reprinted from PoetsandQuants.com
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    John Byrne is the editor-in-chief of PoetsandQuants.com and PoetsandQuantsforExecs.com. A former editor-in-chief of BusinessWeek.com and Fast Company magazine, Byrne also is the author or co-author of eight books on business, including two national bestsellers. Follow him on Twitter.