UIndy receives $3M to launch MBA for school leaders

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The University of Indianapolis has received a $3 million grant from the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship to launch a new MBA program for central Indiana school leaders.

The university is one of two schools piloting the new MBA programs, according to a announcement to be released Wednesday by the New Jersey-based Woodrow Wilson foundation.

The goal of the programs is to equip school leaders with business-type skills to lead well-funded schools to compete better internationally and to help the impoverished students in urban and rural schools catch up with their suburban peers.

UIndy will use the grant money to award $50,000 fellowships to 15 current or aspiring school leaders in each of the next three years. Those fellows will spend one year earning an MBA degree with a concentration in educational leadership, and then receive three years of “executive coaching” as they take on leadership responsibilities at the school districts from which they came.

UIndy, a private Methodist university on Indianapolis' south side, has already worked with 12 school districts and charter school authorizing organizations in the Indianapolis area to solicit 34 nominations. It will announce the 15 initial fellows in the spring. In future years, it will solicit nominations from principals and superintendents at schools farther away from Indianapolis.

“Our goal really is to identify the best of the best that can move schools to be globally competitive, that can close that student achievement gap,” said Rachel Smith, a professor of finance at UIndy’s school of business, who helped design the new MBA program.

Instead of teaching students how to lead an organization to maximize profits, as traditional MBA program do, the new UIndy program will teach its fellows to lead an organization to maximize student achievement.

But the methods for figuring out how to do that and making it happen will largely the same as in traditional MBA programs. UIndy students will learn how to do sophisticated data analysis, including benchmarking against national norms, competitive analyses versus other schools or districts, and cost-benefit analysis for deciding which programs are showing the biggest gain in student achievement relative to the resources they use.

“We convert profit to student achievement,” Smith said, adding, “We’ll be taking the concepts that you essentially learn in a corporate finance class, but applying them to the world of education.”

In a series of conversations Smith and her colleage John Somers, director of graduate programs in UIndy’s school of education, had with local school superintendents this year, they found that such skills are in higher demand than ever.

“The MBA offers a lot of quantitative analysis and tools that aren’t necessarily offered in the traditional education leadership programs,” Somers said. “Schools are in a highly competitive environment right now. Public schools, charter schools private schools, they’re all battling for whether we call them students or products. And people are starting to vote with their feet.”

The Woodrow Wilson foundation chose UIndy after being pleased with its work developing new ways to train new science and math teachers by focusing on mid-career professionals from other fields. The foundation launched that program at UIndy and three other Indiana colleges in 2009. It now includes 23 universities in five states.

The Woodrow Wilson foundation also gave money to pilot an MBA for school leaders at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Funding for the programs was provided by the Wisconsin-based Kern Family Foundation and the Arkansas-based Walton Family Foundation.

In 2010, the Kern foundation providing funding for two similar programs—an MBA for school leaders at the University of Notre Dame and the Marian University Leadership Academy.

The Notre Dame program has since folded. But the Marian program, which is not a formal MBA program, has enrolled 100 students. Of its 80 graduates, 60 are working in school leadership positions.

Arthur Levine, the president of the Woodrow Wilson foundation, said he hopes the new MBA program at UIndy and the Milwaukee School of Engineering become a new model emulated by universities around the country.

“We need to find a new way to prepare principals and superintendents to bolster instruction, raise student and school performance, use data and analytical tools more effectively, and manage change,” said Levine, the former president of the Teachers College at Columbia University, in a prepared statement.

“The new Woodrow Wilson MBA Fellowship in Education Leadership announced today is designed to do just that," he said. "It will prepare strong leaders and provide a national model, demonstrating how a high-value education MBA can provide an alternative to—and ultimately replace—the Ed.D. and give principals and superintendents the wherewithal to lead schools more effectively.”

Even after it starts its MBA program in education, UIndy will continue to operate its traditional education leadership programs. It enrolls about 20 to 30 students in those programs each year, Somers said.


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