Forecast 2017 Q&A: U-M’s Scott DeRue on the future of business education

December 21, 2016
Greta Guest

Scott DeRue Scott DeRueScott DeRueis the Edward J. Frey Dean of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. With a background in private equity, management consulting and academia, DeRue believes that business is the most powerful force for economic and social impact—and it is the responsibility of Michigan Ross to develop the next generation of business leaders. He is an award-winning researcher and instructor, and is widely considered a thought leader in business education and action-based learning.

Contact: 734-763-6820,

Q: Corporations have been slow to diversify their executive ranks and boards of directors. How will business schools accelerate change in this area in 2017?

DeRue: The best way for business schools to improve diversity among the executive ranks is first to attract more women and minorities to business school. At Ross, for example, we are investing in outreach programs that help women and minorities see career possibilities in business, and educational programs to help these candidates prepare for applying to business school. Even if the student ultimately chooses to attend a school other than Michigan Ross, we see it as our responsibility to help prepare the next generation of business leaders and attract more women and minorities to the field of business.

Beyond attracting more women and minorities to business, we must also work directly with companies around the globe to reduce bias in hiring and promotion processes. At Michigan Ross, our faculty includes some of the world’s foremost experts on executive selection and development, as well as bias in the workplace. We are beginning to leverage this expertise to advise companies on how they can diversify their executive ranks by reducing bias in the system. Rarely are these biases intentional, but they exist—and I see it as our responsibility to help companies improve diversity across all ranks. The research is very clear—the more diversity in terms of race, gender and culture, especially at senior levels in the organization, the better your firm performs.

Q: What do you see as the three biggest trends in business education next year?

DeRue: I see three trends that will define the future of business education, next year and beyond.

The first trend is related to how technology is disrupting traditional business and employment models. Technology is changing how people communicate, consume information, and buy products and services. Technology is also having fundamental and often negative effects on employment, most noticeably fewer jobs for the middle class. We must educate our students at the intersection of business and technology so that they are prepared to enter this new world.

The second trend is related to the impact of business in society. The United Nations has 17 sustainable development goals, ranging from eliminating poverty and hunger to accelerating economic and employment growth. Business is essential to achieving each of these goals. Business is the most powerful force for change in the world, and we must prepare our students to leverage businesses to create economic and social value for all people.

The third trend is related to how the next generation of students learn. Experiential education has always been a hallmark of business schools, especially at Michigan Ross where 25 years ago we created our famous multidisciplinary action project (MAP) curriculum. But this next generation of student learns by doing more than we have ever seen in the past, and students want to learn while they are creating, constructing and collaborating. At Michigan Ross, over this next year, we will be building new action-based learning programs that position the school on the leading edge of innovation in education.

Q: The Ross School has been a pioneer in online course offerings including the very popular Intro to Finance course on Coursera. Do you think Ross and other top-ranked business schools will begin offering full degrees online instead of just individual classes in the coming year?

DeRue: Business schools are already offering full degrees online. For example, UNC-Chapel Hill has an entirely online MBA, as do schools such as Illinois, Indiana and Arizona State. Business schools at Harvard, Stanford and MIT are offering nondegree certificates fully online. The question is not whether schools will move in this direction; the question is how and how fast. I fully expect more schools to introduce fully online degrees. At other schools, the focus will be on increasing the number of nondegree certificates offered online. And yet at other schools, the focus will be on identifying ways to use online education to enhance the in-person, residential experience.

At Michigan Ross, we are now leveraging our online courses in finance, leadership and negotiations to complement the experiential education opportunities that define the in-person, residential experience at Michigan Ross. For example, now when a student is engaged in an action-based learning experience in Asia or India, that student can also access online course materials on specific topics in ways that help accelerate the learning-by-doing model. We must ask ourselves how best to leverage online education to achieve our mission of developing the next generation of business leaders who make a positive difference in the world.