Making Your Global Business Experience Mandatory: A Case Study

To keep pace with the demands of employers in an increasingly global business environment, MBA programs are reshaping their curricula to give graduates a more global perspective.

We’ve observed several paths to this goal:

1. Globalizing the student profile
2. Developing and/or recruiting a teaching faculty with significant international experience
3. Incorporating cases with a global edge throughout the curriculum
4. Partnering with foreign universities to offer exchanges of students, faculty, and ideas
5. Requiring an international business experience as a condition of graduation

WorldStrides is routinely called on to assist in executing the fifth pillar of globalizing the MBA curriculum. As a founding corporate member of the Executive MBA Council, we have been involved from the beginning in the evolution of EMBA international residencies from a “nice to have” to a “must have.” According to the EMBA Council’s 2011 membership survey, 90% of EMBA programs have an international residency and 66.4% require this global business experience as part of the degree. This figure has grown significantly over the past five years.

Increasingly, we have seen the example set by EMBA programs being steadily adopted amongst the broader MBA community. In the past five years, WorldStrides has witnessed extraordinary growth in requests for assistance from both professional MBA and full-time MBA programs, as more universities begin requiring a global business experience as a condition of the degree.

Consider the example of University of Louisville’s College of Business.

In 2006, the college overhauled its professional MBA program, transforming a flexible ad hoc curriculum into a standardized program completed over 24 months. Associate Dean Robert Nixon says it was unanimously decided that the professional program would include an international business trip overseas as a requirement of the degree. The program was so successful that the University of Louisville added the requirement to its MBA program for entrepreneurs and its new full-time program in 2010.

The ten-day trips, all organized in partnership with WorldStrides Capstone programs, are required credits per the MBA curriculum. Grades in the course are determined based on a pre-trip research and presentation project, student engagement during the international residency, and a post-trip written report. Nixon, Associate Dean of Masters Programs, says it’s a shift he’s recommended repeatedly to colleagues throughout the MBA community.

WorldStrides: Was there resistance among the faculty to the idea of requiring an international trip?

Nixon: There really wasn’t significant pushback. Everyone understood that we needed to have this international experience. We include the trip in the cost of tuition. There were some at the university who thought it would be difficult financially, but we had a tremendously positive initial response [from students], and have ever since.

WorldStrides: Did you consider planning the international residencies yourself?

Nixon: Not for a moment. I have talked to other universities that do this in-house, and I see the effort that they go through. In fact, I think they are clients of yours now!

WorldStrides: Which WorldStrides services have been most important in your decision to outsource?

Nixon: The visa service is a big one. Those are things that no one thinks about in academia. The contacts for the variety of business visits that WorldStrides gains entry to is phenomenal. And the contacts with the people on the ground in each location—I have a high confidence that all aspects of the ground operation will be high-caliber.

WorldStrides: How do you select the destinations students visit?

Nixon: I select ten possible trips. They all have the same format. I put them on a ballot and send it to the students to find out what is interesting to them. In the last three years, it’s been everything from Rio to Bangkok to St. Petersburg.

WorldStrides: And how do you choose the possible destinations?

Nixon: I want our students to visit less-developed countries, cutting-edge countries, or emerging markets. Our philosophy is that it’s important to bring students to a foreign country and move them outside their comfort zone, such as the experience of dealing with a foreign language and foreign customs. Also, Louisville is a large metro area, and we have a lot of international companies here. For our students, it’s important to have that credential—to have met with companies and interacted with business leaders in other countries.

WorldStrides: How have the programs been received by students/applicants?

Nixon: When we talk about the trip in the recruiting and admissions process, it’s something that is very attractive. And the trip is part of the buzz within the student network. Second-year students talk about it to first-year students. It really is an important part of what we do. We aren’t going back.