The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 55.0°F | Fog/Mist

Faculty Agrees to MBA Degree

By Sarah Y. Keightley
Executive Editor

The faculty approved a new Master of Business Administration degree with an optional thesis for the Sloan School of Management at the Feb. 16 faculty meeting.

The proposal still must be approved by the MIT Corporation, according to Deputy Dean of the Sloan School Paul M. Healy. "It's a hope that it will be passed," Healy said.

President Charles M. Vest said the Executive Committee of the Corporation will vote on the MBA degree next week. If approved, the committee would bring it to the Corporation for confirmation.

This year's first-year Sloan master's students would be the first class given the option to pursue the MBA. Although the Master of Science degree with a 24-unit thesis will still be offered, both Healy and Dean of the Graduate School Frank E. Perkins '55 believe that more students would choose the MBA option over the SM.

Healy said that Sloan has already implemented new courses this year. "Our hope is the changes we've made in the program will make it a better program, without diluting our research program," he said.

Under the MBA degree proposal, "we're asking students to apply research tools and theory to a wide range of management problems" instead of requiring them to write a thesis, Healy said.

The new program is "not reducing the research requirement, [but] changing the focus of it," Healy said. Students who choose to continue research on one topic and write a thesis would have the option to receive either degree, he said.

"Rather than focusing on the thesis experience, there will be research-type experiences interspersed throughout the curriculum," Perkins said. Sloan would not merely eliminate the thesis as a requirement, but replace it research projects in classes and other activities, he explained.

Perkins said that many Sloan School students would probably be more satisfied if the Institute offers the MBA. "Many were not happy with the master's thesis requirement. Now they will be able to focus more on other courses," he said.

The new classes implemented this year will provide an education that better meets students' needs for their long-term careers, Healy said. This includes new research-focused courses and career tracks, and more teamwork in the program.

Concerns with the proposal

There were three main concerns with the MBA proposal, according to Healy. Some faculty members thought "we were trying to dilute our research focus." Others were concerned that Sloan would be "reducing our distinctiveness compared to some of the other schools."

Another consideration was the belief that a "formal thesis is an important part of an MIT education," he said. By making the thesis optional, some believed the Sloan School might be distancing itself from the rest of MIT.

The Institute was unique among business schools because it offered an SM and not an MBA, Perkins said. It gave the Institute a "uniqueness among business schools, and some people viewed that uniqueness as necessary," he said.

But the "net gain is positive" because the Sloan School is making a serious effort to strengthen the master's program, Perkins added.

"I think we were able to address the concerns satisfactorily," Healy said.

MBA is well-recognized'

Perkins said he is "reasonably certain" that the new degree would appeal to future Sloan School applicants and increase their numbers. "The MBA is a well-recognized degree," he said. "Students were sometimes confused that MIT didn't seem to offer an MBA."

Because the SM degree is not as widely-known, most students and recruiters think of the degree as an MBA anyway, Healy said. The Sloan School was trying to make some changes in the curriculum, including an optional thesis, and "it made more sense to call it an MBA," he said.

"From the outside world standpoint, people probably think of the Master of Science as being more of a research degree," Healy said. MIT has a reputation as a "research-oriented institution," and Sloan does not want to change that. The school hopes to "make students more proficient at applying their research tools," he said.

Perkins said, "In reality, there is probably not a huge difference" between the MBA and the SM, but "there was a perception that there was a huge difference."

Changes under consideration

The Sloan School has been considering revamping the curriculum and making the thesis optional for some time. Healy formally introduced his idea to the Perkins last spring. The Committee on Graduate Student Policy studied the proposal, and it was the major item of discussion for five or six meetings, Perkins said.

The current SM program and the MBA program both take two years to complete. This year's students were admitted with the understanding that the MBA program was under consideration, Perkins said.

If approved by the Corporation, the MBA would be one of two graduate degrees at MIT without a major thesis requirement. The other is the practice school option in the Department of Chemical Engineering. These students go to a chemical engineering practice school and write a major report which resembles a thesis, Perkins said.

However, the practice school degree was composed of a "tiny fraction" of graduate students, Perkins said. "With the MBA, we're going to be talking about significant numbers of degrees."

Healy said that he is not aware of another SM program at other business and management schools, though some schools "focus on specialties that are more oriented toward folk that subsequently may want to get a PhD degree."

For example, Northwestern University offers a Master of Management degree, he said.