A Lot to Learn

Customized and In-House Programs

The scope of executive education now goes far beyond the traditional MBA degree. "Essentially, an MBA is designed to develop entry-level business skills," says Bill Scheurer, chair of the International University Consortium for Executive Education (UNICON). "But what do executives do when they're in midcareer, and they're taking on general management skills? There's another body of business education there. We're noticing a big growth in customized programs where companies and universities collaborate."

There are now more than 2,000 corporate universities worldwide, up from 400 in 1988, according to Jeanne Meister, president of New York City-based Corporate University Xchange, a research and consulting firm. Roughly half of corporate universities have on-site campuses. Corporations can mix and match experts or professors for training sessions that last anywhere from one day to several months. Some classes are taught online, while others are conducted at a nearby college or university.

Flexibility and accountability are the greatest benefits of in-house programs. Universities and companies can collaborate on tailor-made curriculum, and employees are able to take classes as part of their regular workday. CEOs and upper level management are directly involved in program planning and execution. Employee follow-up is an ongoing process throughout each course. "You have more control and ownership around the objectives and results," says Meister. "This isn't just a tuition reimbursement benefit."

Companies that offer in-house programs also attract better employees. "Companies that invest in education become employers of choice," says Meister. "They recognize the need to retrain and re-skill employees, because the knowledge people bring to their jobs goes out of date so fast."

Research shows that customized in-house programs are effective. According to a 2000 study by UNICON, 96 percent of UNICON program participants enrolled in customized programs said their learning experience was valuable. The UNICON study also found that incorporating the individual needs of employees and organizations into the coursework achieves the best results. Following up with participants before and after each class is the best way to measure a program's impact.While it's easier for larger corporations to develop sophisticated in-house programs, help is available for small-business owners. "They can do a couple of things," says Meister. "One is to be part of a consortium like the GWEC [Global Wireless Education Consortium], which is a group of telecommunications companies who form partnerships with two- and four-year schools. You can also create partnerships on your own. Usually this involves community colleges or local schools willing to create something innovative with you and your employees."

"Companies need to pay more attention to what they do before, during and after a program," says Scheurer. "It's a matter of sitting down with employees and reviewing the content areas, doing an assessment and giving them candid feedback."

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This article was originally published in the September 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: A Lot to Learn.

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