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Harvard adds a hybrid MBA degree

Students will prepare for work in nonprofit, public, private sectors

Pat Longo photographs her daughter, Alison, by the sign for the Harvard Business School on Friday. (Michael Fein/Bloomberg News)

Reaching across the business-government divide, Harvard Business School will offer a new joint-degree program with Harvard's Kennedy School of Government to prepare students for leadership roles in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.

The three-year program, approved by the Harvard Corp. yesterday and to be disclosed today, will launch in the fall of 2008. Its aim is to give students a broader view of the issues and challenges they'll face in their working lives and tamp down the mutual antagonism between business and government leaders.

It's also a recognition that pressing problems facing nations and economies in the future, like poverty and climate change, will require cooperation.

"Every interesting public problem in the world today crosses the boundary between business and government," said David T. Ellwood , the Kennedy School dean. "Frankly, I think that for too long there have not been enough connections."

The business and Kennedy schools have had a concurrent program for more than 15 years, enabling students to attend classes and earn degrees from either school. Fifty-four Harvard students are currently enrolled .

Their new program is more structured. It will offer two joint degrees: master in business administration/master in public policy or master in business administration/master in public administration-international development . To pursue either degree, students must be accepted by both schools.

W. Carl Kester , deputy dean for academic affairs at Harvard Business School and cochairman of the new program, said there is no target number of students for the program. While it might admit fewer than 50 students in its first couple of years, the number of joint-degree candidates could grow to about 70 in the future, he said.

Students and faculty in the concurrent program have not operated as a community, Kester said. For the joint-degree program, he said, "We're going to make a much more explicit and concerted effort to make this group of students a cohort."

Joint-degree candidates will take the core curriculum from the Kennedy School in their first year and the core curriculum from the business school in their second year, with weekly seminars on issues that intersect political science and business.

In the second semester of their third year, the students will be required to complete a "capstone exercise" where individuals or teams will research problems at the nexus of private and public sector policy for outside business, government, or nonprofit clients. The projects will be brokered by business and Kennedy school faculty members and result in "deliverables" such as briefing books and presentations.

Students might prepare a strategic report for a utility on locating a new power plant, for example, or a feasibility study for a government agency on establishing a privately run prison. Other projects could focus on doing business in developing countries. "We want to make sure the program is exceptionally practical," said Robert N. Stavins , a Kennedy School professor and cochairman of the joint-degree program.

While other universities like Stanford, Duke, and Northwestern also offer some form of combined business-government education, "this was really a niche where we felt we could provide something that no one else was providing," Stavins said.

Joint-degree programs have become popular at business schools in recent years, but joint business-public policy programs are still relatively rare, said Tim Westerbeck , managing director at Chicago consulting firm Lipman Hearne Inc.

"There is a growing tendency in management education to broaden outside the category," Westerbeck said, adding it reflects a recognition that solutions to business problems are interdisciplinary.

Harvard's program is part of a push for more collaboration among its historically siloed graduate schools. Harvard Business School also has set up joint-degree programs with Harvard Law School and Harvard Medical School, while the Kennedy School also offers a joint program with the law school.

Robert Weisman can be reached at weisman@globe.com.

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