Customized continuing education Featured

7:01am EDT June 30, 2006
Educators from coast to coast agree that flexibility and customization are two of the dominant current trends in executive education.

“What I’ve seen in the past six years is a change from companies sending employees to open-enrollment programs to the companies cooperating with colleges and universities on customized training programs,” says Ben Welch, Ph.D., who directs the Center for Executive Development at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School.

The key for medium and large businesses is to find an executive MBA program or courses that fit the needs of the individual as well as the corporation.

“It has been several years,” says Welch, “since we’ve done an open enrollment program, because companies want the training specific to their industry and to their employees.”

Smart Business talked with Welch about the format and benefits of customized executive education programs, as opposed to open-enrollment programs and even online education.

Why customize executive programs?
Companies are demanding it. They want faculty members who are teaching in the MBA program and the EMBA program to deliver the instruction that they deliver in their graduate program, but make the content specific to their companies.

The executive education that we do — students get the equivalent of a mini-MBA program — is 100 percent corporate-funded.

What are the benefits to everyone involved in a customized executive education course?
Faculties learn so much from these companies, and they can use multiple examples that they have gathered from the corporate training in the classroom. More classroom students hear companies mentioned multiple times during a semester, and they begin to think that they might be interested in working for that company. So the company derives a benefit from the message that is being delivered to students in the academic realm.

A benefit for the university is that the partnering relationship can become a financial benefit when the corporate client decides to sponsor a center or to donate scholarship funds. Hopefully, those donations are the result of people who have gone through our corporate training.

What is your most requested topic?
The one thing I find interesting — and it may be a norm across the field of executive education — is that our most requested topic is financial leadership geared toward nonfinancial managers.

Companies are realizing that their employees have to have a rudimentary foundation in financial acumen. One of our faculty members will even bring in, as his sole source of instruction, the company’s annual report.

We’re doing 6 to 12 weeks training out of the year just on financial leadership. If you look at the recent guilty verdicts on Enron and with the Sarbanes Oxley Act, more companies are demanding that their managers have a fundamental handle on financial acumen.

Tell us a little bit about how classroom instruction might be organized.
Optimal size is 25 per class with a minimum of 20 and a maximum of 30. If it gets in excess of 25, the group dynamic changes.

Classes are 100 percent during the day, and they’re typically week-long programs that start on Sunday afternoon and end on Friday afternoon. Other schools might work it differently. For instance, Southern Methodist University does the bulk of its executive education in nighttime and weekend programs.

As for the actual classroom instruction, the No. 1 thing we’ve found is that participants don’t want lectures but interactive discussions, and they really want cases incorporated to solve using their analytical skills. A faculty member can discuss theory or what we teach in the academic realm, but it’s great when you present the challenge back into the group. Corporate students really like that because it brings it back to a personal level. Overwhelmingly, the participants rank the faculty member much higher if they have an opportunity to have an interactive discussion. And the faculty member also learns tremendously.

Because we want to take on the flavor of a mini-MBA program, depending on what the training is, those cases make rigorous homework at night, too.

And as for ‘final grades,’ there’s no final assessment — you’ve either passed or failed. But the companies will often ask us for individualized feedback at the end of the training.

How much impact will Internet education have in the future?
There is certainly a demand for online Internet education, closed-circuit television instruction, more telecommunication-based training, but our clients demand more. The one thing most clients want from executive education is partnering and networking among their employees, so the employees can learn from one another and feel a part of one family.

BEN WELCH, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Executive Development for the Mays Business School of Texas A&M University. Reach him at b-welch@tamu.edu or (979) 845-1216.