Executive Education: Can Universities Deliver?

By Ready, Douglas; Vicere, Albert A. et al. | Human Resource Planning, December 1993 | Go to article overview

Executive Education: Can Universities Deliver?


Ready, Douglas, Vicere, Albert A., White, Alan F., Human Resource Planning


As sweeping reforms and market pressures come to dominate the agenda of colleges and universities in the 1990's, greater attention is being given to the identification of "new" customers for higher education. This exploration for new markets has brought the on-going education of executives and managers to the forefront of many university strategic planning agendas. The inviting potential of "executive programs," non-credit educational programs targeted to upper level corporate managers and formerly the province of major business schools, looms large as a source of new "students" and new revenues.

This paper addresses the strategic considerations faced by universities as they assess their opportunities for entering the market for executive education or expanding their level of activity in the field, and by corporations as they assess opportunities for establishing partnerships with university executive education providers. Based on both their research and their experience in the field, the authors develop a position on the current state of the market for executive education, and present a framework for analyzing potential opportunities for universities in an increasingly crowded and competitive marketplace.

The Evolution of the Field

There has been a great deal of discussion, yet relatively little research, on the purposes, methods and benefits of executive education as a component of executive development (Vicere, 1989). By and large, executive education has been supported as part of the overall executive development process by many corporations because it seemed like the right thing to do (Vicere, 1988). Because of, or perhaps in spite of this belief, corporate investment in executive education grew dramatically from the 1960's through the 1980's (Ready, 1992b; Vicere Taylor and Freeman, 1993).

With the evolution of the global business environment and the resulting need for new managerial mindsets and skills, the importance of executive education and development to overall organizational development increased significantly (Wall Street Journal, 1993). Corporations suddenly needed to revitalize their operations, and executive education was seen as an easily accessed tool for driving these organizational development efforts (Bolt, 1989; Ulrich, 1989; Vicere and Graham, 1990; Vicere, 1991).

This shift in strategic importance set off a dramatic increase in research activity in the field of executive development. With the hypothesis that development should play a critical role in preparing managers to execute competitive strategies more effectively, thus improving a firm's future performance, some researchers emphasized the identification of individual competency requirements for leadership effectiveness in search of 21st century management practices and leadership traits (Barham and Rassan, 1989; Hambrick, 1987; Ready, 1992a). The added uncertainties brought on by rapid changes in technological, political, cultural, social and economic shifts during the eighties and early nineties left other researchers to conclude that focusing too closely on the development of competencies might not be adequate, as the half lives of specific competencies were difficult to determine. As a result, these researchers began to focus their attention on helping organizations ensure that the conditions for continuous learning were present within the firm (Argyris, 1991; Nonaka, 1991; Senge, 1991; Van Clieaf, 1992; Vicere, 1992; Wick, 1993).

The introduction of this systems perspective led many corporations to realize that an executive development system is only as strong as the weakest link in its chain (Vicere and Graham, 1990; McGill, Slocum and Lei, 1992; Ready, Vicere and White, 1992; Wick, 1993). As a result, the need for research into the effectiveness of a variety of executive development processes and practices surfaced, including the need to develop systems that combined job experiences, educational opportunities, mentoring, and other HR activities into an action plan for both the individual development of executives and the overall development of the organization (Vicere and Graham, 1990; McGill, Slocum and Lei, 1992; Wall Street Journal, 1993). …

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