By Temma Ehrenfeld
NEW YORK Aug 8 Despite a full-time job as a
mechanical engineer, Sean Whitney is carving out hours to pursue
the new Johns Hopkins MBA/MA in "Design Leadership." Whitney
believes the program, a collaboration of the Johns Hopkins Carey
Business School and the Maryland Institute College of Art, will
teach him management skills while he learns to think more
His goal: to open his own business designing consumer
products. "I have a background in design and this was a good way
to blend the two worlds," Whitney, 31, says.
This fall, name-brand schools like Hopkins, Northwestern
University, the University of Michigan and Parsons School of
Design are launching cross-disciplinary masters programs meant
to make students more competitive in a changing economy.
While colleges have always tweaked their offerings, the
newest crop of programs seems particularly designed for the
times: They are multidisciplinary, job focused and often
influenced by private industry. They typically involve mixing
creativity with management; data-crunching skills with
industry-specific content and science with business and
Some of these new hybrids, especially in the sciences, allow
graduates to pursue technical jobs with masters degrees rather
than PhDs. In other cases, they reveal the influence of private
companies that are helping to fund and design the programs,
presumably in ways that will produce graduates the companies
want to hire.
"Many institutions are seeing economic difficulties as an
opportunity, and there's been an acceleration in
interdisciplinary programs," says Debra Stewart, president of
the Council of Graduate Schools. She says many of these new
programs are a response to the tough economy. Students and
schools are looking for ways to stand out in a tight market.
"It's hard to distinguish one MBA from another," says Blair
Johnson, a lecturer at Johns Hopkins. "People are looking for
much more customized programs."
THE DESIGN CONNECTION
The Hopkins program focuses on combining design and business
management -- an idea that has gained popularity since the
Stanford Business school founded its much-admired "D-school" in
2005, with help from a donation by Hasso Plattner, co-founder of
software giant SAP. In recent months, companies and institutions
ranging from SAP to the Rockefeller Foundation and AOL "have
reached out to try to recruit our students," says Stanford
spokeswoman Debbe Stern.
The 20-month Hopkins program, which started in July,
includes business basics like economics, marketing and ethics
along with "visualization, prototyping, cultural relevance and
awareness, design theory, sustainability and social
responsiveness." It was inspired by a collaborative course with
the Maryland Institute College of Art in which students produced
solutions for design problems presented by Stanley Black &
Decker and other companies, says Johnson.
The Parsons New School for Design in New York is launching
its own design MBA degree this fall, as is Philadelphia
University, which dubs its program "The MBA for hybrid
INFORMATION SCIENCE HYBRIDS
At 62, Ronny Schmier is putting aside his anesthesiology
practice to study full time in the University of Michigan's new
masters program in "Health Informatics." The program will cover
medical electronic records and technology that patients use
themselves and will tap into health expertise from the
university's medical school.
"We are training people to understand policy issues like
privacy and security," says program director Charles Friedman.
"Some of the other programs are more IT-oriented."
Schmier wants to help design systems allowing physicians to
pull patient information from any medical facility. "I'm not a
computer geek but I know what needs to be done," he says.
Programs like the one at Michigan focus on combining
information technology with the issues of a particular industry.
Another approach is to combine management with IT.
At Northwestern, this fall brings a new masters in analytics
"bringing together statistics and computer science with a
business perspective," says assistant director Chris Bray. IBM
, SAS and Teradata have helped shape the
curriculum and may offer internships, Bray says.
Math and science college graduates who aren't seeking a
career in research (which requires a PhD), can instead earn a
professional science masters, or PSM. The curriculum includes
graduate-level science or mathematics, often in a newly emerging
discipline like bioinformatics or climate science plus course
work to help graduates become lab or project managers or to team
up with experts in the fields of finance, regulation or
intellectual property law.
Helped along by grants from the National Science Foundation,
the number of PSM programs grew from 154 to 286 in the past
three years, according to the Council of Graduate Schools. This
year new programs included "Space Studies" at Rice University
and "Pharmaceutical Engineering" at Rutgers.
KICKING THE TIRES AND CHECKING THE SYLLABUS
With more choices - and costs as high as $90,000 for a
master's at a prestigious school - prospective students need to
do their research. Some of what's happening now "may be
marketing: the curriculum may not be new but it has a new sexy
name on it," says Christopher Morphew, a professor of
educational policy at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
Students also need to evaluate whether they could get the
same training by adding on extras to a traditional degree or
double-majoring as an undergraduate.
When considering a relatively untested curriculum or label,
students need to be especially careful that it will help them
towards their career goals, experts say. "You need to do a deep
investigation. The program should be a good and a logical idea
and have good hiring rates," says Scott Jaschle, of
InsideHigherEd.com, a news and jobs listings website.
But for brand-new programs, no job placement rates will be
available. And that may be a reason to wait. Links to local
business or big employers are a good sign, especially if they
arise from a longstanding focus at the school, says Lois
Trautvetter, director of the higher education and administration
policy program at Northwestern.
Editing by Jilian Mincer, Linda Stern and Kenneth Barry)