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    The StratEDgy blog is intended to be a thoughtful hub for discussion about strategy and competition in higher education.


Partial MBA


I was surprised there wasn’t more press about this one.

October 2, 2013

Coursera recently announced the Wharton Foundation Series, a set of four courses available online for free.  These courses – introductory courses in financial accounting, corporate finance, marketing and operations management – are four of the nine core courses offered to full-time Wharton MBA first-year students, but not online, of course.  Same content and same professors, though.  Businessweek wrote an article about it, but it didn’t get much press otherwise. 

Wharton is giving away the “hard skills” classes, like financial accounting, but to get the soft skill courses, like leadership, and the most valuable aspects of the program (e.g., networking), you need to attend the “real” Wharton MBA program.  This makes sense – give away the codified knowledge, but keep the most valuable aspects (e.g., network) and hardest-to-teach soft skills (e.g., leadership) for on-campus delivery – and a premium price. 

Education is an experience good – you don’t know the value of it until you ‘consume’ it.  Part of the consumption of a full-time residential MBA program is the face-to-face interaction with faculty and fellow students, including the events, team experiences, club activities, discussions over coffee, and yes, the parties.  Oh, and the career services and alumni network. 

A student review on Business Insider summed it up well: 

Required core courses for a Wharton MBA that are missing from Coursera include an introductory macroeconomics course and regression analysis, a statistics course for future managers. But an enterprising student could fill that skills gap with MIT's highly regarded and popular introductory microeconomics course and Coursera's data analysis course from Johns Hopkins. 

You'd still be missing the networking opportunities, career services support, alumni network, and the prestige of the degree, but a dedicated student can pick up a lot of the practical skills a business requires.”

So why would Wharton give away, for free, nearly half of the first-year MBA program content?  Several possibilities:

  • A:  Wharton faculty and staff are very nice, very generous people
  • B:  They plan to eventually put all – or a large portion – of their MBA program online
  • C:  They want to extend their reach/impact/reputation by allowing their content to be used by faculty at other schools, and those that may never have the opportunity to attend a Wharton program
  • D:  They sense a shift in the MBA market and want to ride the wave, rather than being crushed by it
  • E:  All of the above
  • F:  None of the above

I’ll go with E.


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