Yesterday I reconnected with Josh Kaufman, who worked for me a few years ago and is now in marketing at P&G. While working hard for the CPG giant by day, at night Josh is quietly leading a revolution in the world of MBA degrees with an idea called "The Personal MBA" (PMBA).
The PMBA (best described in a recent BusinessWeek article) started off with a blog post by Seth Godin, who suggested that MBAs were better off saving the $150,000 in opportunity cost and reading 30-40 critical books. Josh Kaufman took the challenge and created PersonalMBA.com, which runs an evolving, member-suggested list of the right reading.
According to BusinessWeek, "Less than a year after its launch, the Personal MBA site has at least 1,200 registered members in 25 countries, says Kaufman. That's over 300 more students than all of the MBA candidates enrolled at the University of Michigan Stephen M. Ross School of Business and almost double the size of the full-time MBA class at Stanford Graduate School of Business. The site's popularity continues to grow. From August, 2005, to last month, the number of registered users has tripled, while the number of visitors to the site per month has hovered around 35,000."
Clearly Josh has hit on an unmet need, not surprising given his P&G background! But this is not an unpaid blog ad for his site. I believe this example highlights the growing rise of free or open source alternatives to products and services that have become monopolies. Similar to my previous post about how music swapping is challenging the music labels to innovate and better meet listeners' needs, something similar is brewing in the market for education.
The demand for higher education is growing in our ultra-competitive, global economy, but the supply of highly-ranked institutions is basically unchanged. As a result, college education is one of the few parts of our economy that has seen significant price increases over the past decade (health care being another...and another topic). The cost is rising both in terms of tuition and the lost wages of being out of the economy for two years. So now the pressure of supply and demand in higher education has been a challenge that has spawned a novel approach in the form of a social network of similar-minded people helping each other learn.
This solution is far from best for everyone, and I do not think Harvard is worried. For one, the PMBA helps in no way to signal your skills to the market. This signaling effect helps recruiters sort through many resumes. Further, as both a heavy reader and someone with an MBA (NYU/Stern School of Business '99), I can honestly say that my classroom education allowed me to learn and retain many more lessons than books alone. And the recruiting process helped me switch careers from Finance to Marketing.
Overall, however, I am excited to see innovation come into the space of higher education. I am even more excited to have Josh Kaufman as a friend who can keep me updated on its progress. Hopefully in a few years he will add The Challenge Dividend to his list!