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Executive Education

Programs for Experienced Business People

The value of education is obvious, particularly with the growth of a global economy. People realize that education and learning cannot stop when they move from school to career. They must continuously develop their skills and keep current with new trends and business concepts if they and their organizations are to be successful.

American colleges and universities typically have departments or schools of business that offer degrees at the undergraduate (bachelor) and graduate (master and doctorate) levels. In addition, many leading business schools offer programs for experienced business people, allowing them to return to campus to explore new ideas, to be updated in their field or in areas with which they are unfamiliar, and leave with fresh approaches to business issues. This type of educational program falls into the broad category of "Executive Education." What these programs offer and how one can learn more about them is the purpose of this article.

Executive education programs are of varying length, ranging from a few days to three or four weeks. Unlike courses that lead to a degree, executive education programs do not offer credits applicable to a degree. There are no requirements for admission in an academic sense (for example, GMAT) other than what a school might require in terms of work backgrounds of those attending. What schools want to achieve are classes composed of people with roughly comparable business experience and responsibility. This creates both a stimulating and comfortable learning environment.

What is the typical audience for executive education?

While some people enroll in programs at their own expense, most attending are sponsored by the business organization for which they work. They are typically viewed by their organizations as future leaders, and executive education is used as part of a broader development strategy to help accelerate individual growth. As a result, people attending programs have a broad range of experience, most with seven to twenty years in a business career, and represent diverse industries and functional areas.

Executive education offers a broad range of subjects. Many programs focus on general management, personal development, and leadership skills. Others address specific disciplines areas such as marketing, finance, manufacturing, or human resources. Programs may cover a range of topics, giving students a "mini-MBA." Still other programs may focus on the specific interests of a broad industry such as telecommunications or energy. These would bring students together to gain knowledge about new developments in their field and enable them to discuss and debate issues that they all may be facing.

Executive education programs are residential; that is, students typically live on campus or in a nearby hotel. They eat together and often share recreational opportunities. The objective is to build a learning community and a strong network that will serve students both during and following the programs.

People often work in study groups or form teams to address assigned projects. The work is intensive and challenging. It is also exciting as students explore cases, research unfamiliar areas, make presentations, and debate alternate solutions to a problem. While there are lectures, much of the program time is given over to lively discussion. Presentations and projects are often assigned, but there are no formal examinations to pass for course completion.

Schools are particularly anxious to attract students from outside the United States. These bring diverse experiences to the class that are valuable for everyone. Increasingly, more and more women attend executive education courses as companies try to accelerate the career development of women. Instruction is in English. Some schools have related programs to assist those whose English language skills may not be strong.

Because of the specialized character of executive education and the fact that it addresses the interests of older students, faculty members are specially selected for their expertise in specific fields. Typically, they are people who have consulted with businesses and can share practical knowledge and insights from their work.

Executive education programs are offered around the world by major institutions such as those that are members of UNICON. Because of the long and deep tradition of business education in the United States, there is great variety in what is offered by U.S. schools.

Where might a potential student turn for additional information?

The World Wide Web is a good place to start. (The UNICON website, www.uniconexed.org, allows people to explore course offerings at all member schools.) Major schools have homepages that describe what they offer and tell readers how to get more information. People in business can turn to their training or human resources specialists and ask about development opportunities in the United States. There are a number of printed guides which specialists are likely to have which describe offerings, schedules, qualifications for attendance, costs, and logistical information. It should be noted that courses are offered throughout the year. Program dates are not tied to the academic terms that are used for degree programs.

With the great demand for effective managers and leaders worldwide, attending an executive education program may be an important developmental tool. The person attending should carefully think about his or her objectives, what strengths should be enhanced, and what weaknesses overcome. This kind of careful analysis will be helpful when selecting a program.

Learning is always exciting. Achieving it with others who are similarly committed can be an exhilarating and life-changing experience.