Alicia Wong’s ears perked up during an information session for prospective undergraduate business students at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business when the presenter mentioned a new program called the World Bachelor in Business. Wong, then a high school senior, was intrigued when she learned the program would allow her to study business for a year respectively at the Marshall School, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Bocconi University in Italy. Even better, the program would allow her to get three business degrees from each of the universities for the price of one. She was incredulous at first, but left with a brochure in hand.
A few months later, she decided to apply, says Wong. “I thought it was definitely crazy, but exciting” says Wong, now a sophomore in the program who is studying in Hong Kong this fall. “My family loves to travel, and ever since I was young I always knew I wanted to go to a school that would offer me a study abroad program. I never imagined there would be a program that would allow me to go to so many different places while in college.”
Partnerships between schools in different countries are not unusual, but the breadth and depth of the World Bachelor in Business program makes it stand out in the management education world, especially on the undergraduate front. The three-continent degree program, now entering its third year, has taken the notion of traveling abroad for college students and completely turned it on its head. It is part of a small group of undergraduate business programs that are starting to push the boundaries of study abroad experiences, creating ambitious new models and partnerships with universities around the world. They aim to give students a deeper dive into the culture of the region where they are studying through longer-term stays, with extensive support services that help students integrate more fully into campus life.
CORPORATE DEMAND FOR STUDENTS WHO COULD WORK WELL IN GLOBAL COMPANIES
John Matsusaka, the executive director of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at USC Marshall and the founding director of The World Bachelor program, is at the cutting edge of this trend. Back in 2009, he was discussing how to create a new academic partnership with a colleague from Italy’s Bocconi University. The two men realized that companies increasingly wanted students who could perform well in large multi-national companies, were comfortable living in different regions of the world, and had a deep understanding of how business worked in different cultures.
Few undergraduate programs prepared students for these challenges, they quickly realized.
The closest they found was a program called GLOBE, run in conjunction with the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business, Copenhagen Business School and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. That program, which puts together a cohort of around 50 students who travel to all three universities over an 18-month period during their junior and senior years, was a step in the right direction, they thought, but it still wasn’t quite what they had in mind..
Matsusaka and his Bocconi colleague wanted to create an entirely new and groundbreaking model for an international undergraduate business degree.
“We wanted to get out ahead and say, where are things going in the long term,” he says. “We decided let’s try to get three schools from the hot economic zones in the world, Asian, North America and Europe. The insight we had was that immersion was key.”
A FRESHMAN YEAR IN L.A., A SOPHOMORE YEAR IN HONG KONG & A JUNIOR YEAR IN MILAN
With that in mind, Matsusaka sought out a third academic partner, ultimately signing on The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. The three schools each agreed that students would spend a year on each of their campuses, moving through the program in cohorts of 40 to 50 students each year. Support staff at each school would help them get fully integrated into campus life, through academic advising and student clubs. Students’ freshman year would be spent in Los Angeles at the Marshall School, their sophomore year in Hong Kong, and finally they’d spend their junior year at Bocconi in Milan. For senior year, students would get to decide on which of the three campuses they wanted to return to in order to complete their studies. At the end of the program all three universities will grant students a bachelor’s degree from their respective school.
Once the partners agreed upon the conceptual framework of the program, the next challenge was figuring out how to design it so that the curriculum was akin to that of a typical undergraduate business degree. All three schools offered a similar cadre of undergraduate business classes in such basics as marketing and finance, but the content of the courses and emphasis of the material varied slightly from school to school, says Tyrone Callahan, the former director of the World Bachelor’s Program and vice dean for undergraduate programs. The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology had additional math requirements, for example, while Bocconi required students to take business and European law classes. Marshall students were asked to spend extra time working on their writing and communication skills.