Posted by: Louis Lavelle on April 10, 2009
By Mandy Oaklander
The mantra to “do unto others” took a long time to graduate from the classrooms of ABCs into those of MBAs. But studies show that the Golden Rule, in the form of corporate social responsibility, is finally gaining broad acceptance in the most unlikely of places: business school.
In a new study that will be released next week, the Bridgespan Group in March surveyed ten of the nation’s top MBA programs that had a reputation for excellent academics and strong social awareness. The results? A 110% average increase in so-called “social benefit” course offerings from 2004 to 2009. Nonprofit management courses grew at a similar rate.
Student demand emerged as the strongest influence on the trend. According to Dr. Nora Silver, director of the Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership at U.C. Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, “This generation of students is among the first…who when they went to college and high school were required or expected to do community service. [They] grew up expecting to be able to integrate…doing some social good with working in any sector.”
The study found that after a student push, four factors greatly contributed to the rise in socially responsible course offerings: faculty interest, competition between B-schools, demands of recruiters, and an increasingly global economy.
But all do-gooders aren’t created equal. In the social-benefit classroom realm, Yale came out on top, having increased its already-high 45 classes to 95 total course offerings. Berkeley upped its 30 classes to 74, a 146% increase. Wake Forest hoisted its 27 courses to a total of 68, a 152% advance.
Wharton leads the pack percentage-wise with the biggest increase, a whopping 271%. But the number of courses crept up, not so whoppingly, from a mere two to only eight. Cornell lags behind the rest, up just 33% and increasing from nine to 12 courses. Columbia only ended up with a total of 32 relevant course offerings in 2009, its end result near or below the starting number of many other top schools.
The growth of courses on managing social sector organizations increased by the same 110%, but the losers of this advance are more pronounced. Cornell decreased 100%, cutting its only social-sector-minded program. Even though Yale offered the highest number of social benefit classes in the surveyed schools, it dropped to fifth place in the number of nonprofit management classes, having only increased the number from three to seven. Wake Forest had only one class in 2004, but added four more by 2009.
On the brighter side, UNC looks like the number-one choice for those wishing to increase their nonprofit management skills. It began with seven of these classes in 2004—the second-highest number offered at the time—and upped its course offerings to 10, the highest number in 2009. Columbia trails just behind the Tar Heels, jumping 125% from four to nine courses.
Whether or not MBAs are sincere in their desire to save the world is open to question. But it seems that corporate social responsibility, the business world’s unwritten equivalent of a voluntary Hippocratic Oath, might be finally getting an academic foundation.