When it comes to fostering diversity, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business is no stranger to being a frontrunner. Established at the end of the 19th century, the institution scored a number of firsts in promoting higher education for women and minorities. It was the first business school to grant a Ph.D. in business to a woman, the first to award a Master of Business Administration to an African-American student and the first to establish minority relations and scholarship programs. It was also one of the first to create a dedicated office of diversity affairs, and today boasts a number of partnerships with minority business organizations, as well as a handful of prestigious minority fellowships.
Historic Firsts and Singular Achievements
With campuses in Chicago, London and Singapore, the Booth School of Business, second oldest school of its kind in the world and the first busi-ness school to boast six Nobel prizewinners, has a history stretching back to 1898, when the College of Commerce and Politics was chartered at the University of Chicago by renowned economist James Laurence Laughlin (who also contributed to the founding of the Federal Reserve System). Its founding principles were “scientific guidance and investigation of great economic and social matters of everyday importance.”
It established its doctorate program in business in 1920 and nine years later became the first graduate school to award a Ph.D. in business to a woman – Ursula Batchelder Stone, who became a prominent researcher and member of Chicago’s Hyde Park community and was also a faculty member of George Williams College.
The school offered its first M.B.A. degree program in 1935; shortly afterward, the school decided to focus solely on graduate programs, and the undergraduate program was rapidly phased out.
In 1942, Lionel Wallace became its first African-American student to be awarded an M.B.A.
In 1959, it changed its name again, to the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. By this time, the Nobel prizewinning econo-mist Milton Friedman had joined the ranks of its faculty, and the school became an influential contributor in the development of the Chicago School of economic thought (which favors a free-market, minimal-regula-tion approach).
Soon thereafter, in 1964, then-dean George P. Schultz established the nation’s first minority scholarship program at a business school. Six years later, students of the school founded the National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA, incorporated in 1974).
In 2004, the school relocated from four aging traditional buildings to its new 415,000-square-foot facility: the Charles M. Harper Center, named after the retired CEO of ConAgra Foods. It finally became known as the University of Chicago Booth School of Business in 2008, when alumnus David Booth (M.B.A., 1971) made a historic endowment to the school of$300 million – the single largest donation ever given to a U.S. business school.
“My gift is largely unrestricted,” Booth said of his endowment. “I want-ed to do that to enable them to have the most flexibility – to make them as competitive as possible. What I really want to do is create an environment that the university can do special things with. Take some risks. Do some research that might not get funded otherwise. ... If you look at business schools around the country, I don’t think any of them have the influence that Chicago has had.”
Graduate Programs Centered on Flexibility
In keeping with the University of Chicago’s greater philosophy of diver-sity in thought, student-interest-driven studies, and flexibility, the Booth School provides a number of programs tailored to suit the needs of the widest possible variety of students. Along with its first-in-the-nation Executive M.B.A. program, the school’s flagship program is its full-time M.B.A. program, which consists of 21 classes, only one of which is required. Its curriculum is built on a handful of components, including foundational courses for developing analytical tools; courses on business environment, practices and management; and several electives spread over 14 different areas of concentration, giving students a wide variety of sub-jects to explore and in which to develop specialties. The one required course, Leadership Effectiveness and Development (LEAD), is geared specifically toward helping students develop business leadership skills.
To cater to the needs of students who are already working or have sig-nificant family responsibilities, the Booth School also has part-time and evening M.B.A. programs, both of which offer the same courses and have the same requirements. More flexible programs such as these help make the Booth School attractive to underrepresented groups, particularly women and Hispanics, who tend to show a greater need to juggle family and job responsibilities.
The Booth School also enjoys an international reputation as a finance-industry-focused institution nearly on par with Wharton (University of Pennsylvania). Said Alberto Abbo, a Booth student from Venezuela with a background in chemical engineering and strategic planning: “I wanted for-mal education to hone my managerial skills, and I wanted to transition into a financial background. Chicago was the best school for me because of access to opportunities from leading faculty to research.”
Underrepresented Enrollment: How Does Booth Compare?
The school has been ranked consistently among the top business schools in the nation by a number of notable business news sources. Most recently, it was ranked first by Business Week and The Economist, third by Poets & Quants, fourth by Forbes, fifth by U.S. News & World Report and ninth by Financial Times. (Other top-rated schools include such institutions as Northwestern University’s Kellogg School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School, Harvard Business School and Stanford School of Business.)
The Booth School’s M.B.A. student enrollment figures for underrepre-sented groups show that, by and large, it is neck and neck with many of its peers. The most recent participation rate data show that women make up 35 percent of the Booth School’s current full-time enrollment, while minorities comprise 37 percent (with Asian-Americans at 21 percent, African-Americans at 7 percent and Hispanics at 9 percent). In compari-son, with regard to women, the Booth School is on par with Harvard’s and Stanford’s business schools – which have female enrollment rates of 36 percent and 39 percent, respectively. However, these schools show markedly lower minority enrollment rates than Booth, with both showing minorities as only 23 percent of their total current enrollments.
Interestingly, the Booth School’s Hispanic M.B.A. enrollment rate of 9 percent is nearly double the rate of all master’s degrees earned by Hispanics in the 2004-05 academic year (4.9 percent), as reported in the American Council on Education’s Minorities in Higher Education Twenty-Second Annual Status Report: 2007 Supplement. Similarly, an earlier global M.B.A. survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council showed that Hispanics made up 4.5 percent of total M.B.A. pro-gram graduates while African-Americans made up 4.1 percent.
In short: with specific regard to Hispanics, enrollment rates of the Booth School appear to surpass not only nationwide M.B.A. figures, but those of other highly ranked business schools.
Diversity: Programs, Organizations and Initiatives
While being first to the party might have given the Booth School an advantage in garnering more exposure to aspiring graduate students in underrepresented groups, it by no means relies on its pioneering reputa-tion. There has been a longstanding commitment in the school’s culture to reach out to women, minorities and other underrepresented groups. At the center of this drive for diversity is the school’s philosophy that great ideas come from a wide variety of backgrounds.
The primary minority student organizations at Booth are the jointly run African American MBA Association and Hispanic American Business Students Association (AAMBAA/HABSA). Together, they provide an atmos-phere for students to network, build student community within Chicago Booth, facilitate diversity recruiting and engage in service projects within the local community. In addition, AAMBAA/HABSA organizes informative events, including lectures given by such business figures as Derryl L. Reed, president and CEO of Smokin’ Joe Products (and an alumnus of the Booth School).
Of course, minority student groups are but part of the picture. As expressed on the Booth School website (www.chicagobooth.edu): “It is necessary to have students with diverse backgrounds and multiple per-spectives in order to arrive at the best ideas. It is this philosophy that has facilitated our longstanding commitment to diversity.”
The stated goals of its Office of Diversity affairs, launched in the mid-1980s, are “to increase recruitment, enrollment and retention of minority students at the Booth School of Business; educate the Booth community about the importance and value of diversity through educational, personal and cross-cultural activities for all students; serve as a resource for individual students, student groups and administrative departments in their efforts to accomplish a diverse set of opportunities and experiences for all members of the Booth community; cultivate relationships with corpora-tions to attract and secure additional funding and career opportunities for underrepresented students; and build a network of alumni, corporate part-ners and other friends of the school to assist in the support, employment, financial assistance and overall success of underrepresented students at Booth.” These goals are directly descended from the school’s longstanding operating philosophy.
Much like its student organization counterparts, the Office of Diversity Affairs organizes events aimed at improving and opening recruitment paths for underrepresented minorities, women, and gays and lesbians. Toward that end, it leverages alumnae organizations and partnerships with an impressive number of entities that represent the educational interests of racial/ethnic minorities and other underrepresented groups. The following organizations are a few examples:
Chicago Women in Business Alumnae Network (CWIBAN): founded in 2002, a worldwide Chicago Booth School organization for women gradu-ates of Booth. The school and CWIBAN co-host annual, informal “Women’s Week” receptions around the world. These are designed to familiarize prospective students with the Booth School of Business from a woman’s perspective.
Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT): a national nonprofit and the premier source of minority students for the top-10 M.B.A. pro-grams. Its primary focus is to increase minority enrollment in institutions (including both business schools and businesses) that develop manage-ment talent.
National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA): boasts 7,000 members in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Its goal is to help build Hispanic leadership through both management education and professional development. As stated on its website (www.nshmba.org), the group “works to prepare Hispanics for leadership positions ... so that they can provide the cultural awareness and sensitivity vital in the management of the nation’s diverse work force.”
National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA): dedicated to the advance-ment of African-American leadership in the country’s business community; toward that end, it has partnered with more than 400 leading business organizations. An organization whose membership consists of African-American graduates with M.B.A.s/advanced degrees and entrepreneurs, it exists to provide members with programs geared toward facilitating intel-lectual growth while also fostering relationships and connections within the business industry.
By themselves, any one of these organizations, working in tandem with Booth’s Diversity Affairs office, offers a powerful means of improv-ing the school’s exposure to minorities and other underrepresented groups, and creating growth in minority participation rates in graduate business programs.
Taken together, they are far-reaching vehicles proved invaluable in making the Booth School one of the top business schools for the under-represented, and in generating the school’s impressive post-completion placement rate (91 percent within three months of graduating, according to recent figures cited by the Booth School).
It’s a powerhouse networking model for minority M.B.A. students that befits a world-class business school.