by WASC Admin

2008-08 WASC: California College of the Arts: MBA, Design Strategy (New Degree Program)

Section II: Program Need and Approval

A. Program Need

1. Program need/rationale framed by the institution's mission and strategic goals.

For over a century, California College of the Arts (formerly California College of Arts and Crafts) has been dedicated to educating students to shape culture through the practice and understanding of the arts. Guiding this mission has been the fundamental belief that connecting the arts to social and political life deepens the power of creative work while making a positive contribution to the communities in which that work takes place. This principle was key to the Arts and Crafts movement of the early twentieth century, and this vision of an arts education and training that fuses practice, theory, art making, and design to the social context aligns this innovative MBA in Design Strategies program with the college’s century of tradition.

Since 2004, CCA has been guided by its strategic plan ("Leadership in Arts Education, 2004-2009"), which identifies the College’s three central goals going forward as 1) enhancing national visibility through academic excellence, 2) maintaining a sustainable business model, and 3) strengthening internal and external community relations.  The MBA program supports all three strategic goals by positioning CCA as the national leader in fusing design and business into a single MBA program.  The program also allows the college to increase enrollment commensurate with the plan’s growth strategies.  Additionally, the program further extends CCA’s presence into the business community, thereby offering new possibilities for both external support (Goal 2) and relations with the college (Goal 3).

Four years ago, CCA’s Strategic Plan (2004-9) took careful note of the rising importance of design, stipulating that the College seek ways to provide leadership in this area:

In recent years, design has become a field of intense concern among an increasingly broad sector of the public. Quality design and concerns about design aesthetics are now part of popular culture, and there is widespread recognition of the problem-solving capacities of designers and artists. At CCA these capacities can be deepened and sharpened, and designers and artists can work together in intense, productive collaborations. (SP 5)

This innovative, interdisciplinary MBA program is thus a logical extension of CCA’s strategic mission, enabling the college to capitalize on its reputation in the design field, to fully utilize its institutional capacities, and to facilitate the emergence of design solutions into the business community.

Over the past decade, there has been a growing awareness of, appreciation for, and perceived need for design within the business community. While design has always been a component of product development, it is now being seen as a strategic focus of business growth and a powerful avenue toward true innovation. Innovation and design are now commonly discussed together in both the design and business press; BusinessWeek now includes an entire section on innovation and design (, and a March 26, 2006 article in the magazine discusses the attempts of top American business schools to add design and “creativity” classes to their programs.

In 2006, CCA recognized the opportunity to recast the business world’s growing interest in “innovation” and “design” in broader terms understandable to business people.  From the beginning, faculty, administrators, trustees, and alumni recognized the opportunity for CCA to offer something of real value to both our students and the business community by developing a program that committed to integrating design practices at every level of a traditional business degree.  Because of this commitment, the importance of differentiating this degree from the College’s MFA Design program—with is concentrations in communication design, industrial design, and interaction design—became obvious. 

2. Process and results used to establish the need - Please provide a summary of the findings, not the full study.

To assess the need for such a program, senior administrators held a series of conversations with deans and directors of various institutions in the relevant fields to discuss the program concept and ascertain its feasibility.

CCA then conducted several summit discussions with design and business leaders throughout 2006 and 2007. We also polled practicing designers and CCA alumni with a targeted survey. In it, we discovered that:

  • 75% of the industrial, interaction, and graphic designers polled, with 1-15 years of professional experience, were interested in an advanced degree;
  • The top two interests in an advanced degree were in Interaction Design (32%) and Business/Management (27%);
  • Of those interested in a business-related degree, there was overwhelming interest in a degree (rather than a certificate) program, whether full-time or part-time;
  • Respondents also were interested most in either a residency program or a hybrid of online and residency classes;
  • 83% were interested in a masters-level credential, mostly an MBA (73%).

 While there are many degrees in the European Union (EU) that address the intersection of design and business, there are very few in the US and none in the Bay Area.  CCA’s research into programs offering similar programming demonstrates both the nascent interest in the design-business strategies hybrid, and the dearth of local opportunities for pursuing it:

  • Only one MBA program in Design Management was found (Milano, Italy).
  • In the EU, there are 14 masters-level design management degrees (12 are in the UK) and 10 undergraduate design management degrees (all in the UK); these degrees focus on the management of the design function within corporations.  In contrast, CCA’s MBA in Design Strategy focuses on leading innovation throughout an organization, not merely on managing designers.
  • There are only five design management masters programs in the US (3 in Chicago, 1 in new York City, and 1 in Lawrence, Kansas). Like those in the EU, these focus on the management of design and designers within corporations.
  • The USA offers only one bachelor degree with a similar focus (at Parsons, in new York City), one minor (at Ringling in Sarasota, Florida), and 3 certificate programs (in Chicago and Boston).
  • In addition, Stanford’s program does have a similar focus on design strategy, but does not plan to offer any degrees. Instead, it provides design-related courses to Stanford’s other degree programs. The is the only program within 1800 miles that offers anything similar.

Thus, CCA is in a remarkable position. The San Francisco Bay Area is, at once, one of the richest design locations in the world, one of the most prolific innovation centers, and the center of the world for start-up culture, finance, and expertise. In addition, the area’s academic and industrial infrastructure is uniquely supportive of new approaches, new solutions, and new processes for innovation. This has allowed our program to harness leading designers and business people to create and manage an integrated approach to design-led innovation in a setting where it is valued. In addition, the opportunities for students to intern and, eventually, find jobs among like-minded professionals that value their training and experience is unprecedented.

3. Evidence used to support enrollment projections and to support the conclusion that interest in the program is sufficient to sustain it at expected levels - If the program is planned to be offered for a finite period, provide the enrollment data for the length of the program. If the program is planned to be offered continuously, then provide enrollment projections for the first three years. These enrollment projections should be reflected in the budget.

The results of our market research showed considerable interest and we specifically tailored our degree program to the expectation of both industry experts (potential employers) and prospective students. The start-up budget allocated to the program ($100,000 grant from a supporter of the college) made it possible to develop the program and launch in September 2007. In the four months following the launch of recruitment information for the program, the College received over 280 inquires from prospective students, including 85 attendees at the program’s Information Night in early December—the most any of our programs have ever received (by some margin).

To date this year, CCA has received 90 applications to the program, 38 of which have been accepted. The program plans to enroll no more than 30 students in any cohort and, this year’s acceptance yield has been over 80%. The program continues to receive applications and enquiries, and projections are for a threefold increase in applications for Fall 2009 enrollment. 

The college's graduate programs have a 95% overall retention rate.


4. Attach the recruitment and/or marketing plan for the program.

CCA’s marketing and recruitment plan for the Design Strategy MBA echoes the college’s own strategic plan by promoting national and international visibility for the program as a leader in this nascent field.  To these ends, the program has launched its website, which now provides information about the curriculum, philosophy, and student profile.  The site also links to the program’s blog, providing updates on the field and outreach to other media, while soliciting input from companies and other organizational partners as well as faculty.  The goal with the program’s online presence is to position CCA as a nexus of the conversation around this emerging field.  

Additional publicity strategies include collaborating with the college’s communications department in creating opportunities for editorial articles--instead of advertising--to reach mindful readers with accurate information. These will appear in influential design and business magazines, journals, and blogs. For example, the field’s preeminent directory is BusinessWeek’s annual guide to design and business programs, which announced CCA’s MBA last year and will list it in the upcoming edition. In addition, the program has been mentioned in numerous blog posts, both professional and personal, as well as in interviews with prominent academics: see

The Design Strategy MBA will also rely on its active advisory board to help shepherd the program, facilitate partnerships with companies and other organizations, and potentially aide the development of scholarships and endowments through its extensive networks in relevant fields.  Additionally, the program will be promoted by representatives at the annual and educational conferences of the following industry organizations: AIGA (the professional association for design), IDSA (The Industrial Designers Society of America); DMI (Design Management Institute), and TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design). Finally, the program will host monthly student open houses for prospective students.

B. Planning/Approval Process

1. Description of the planning and approval process within the institution, indicating how faculty and other groups (administrators, trustees, stakeholders, etc.) were involved in the review and approval of the new program. 

Initial conversations took place in Spring 2006 among President Michael Roth, Provost Stephen Beal, and then Dean of Graduate Studies Lawrence Rinder concerning the development of what was to become the MBA in Design Strategy.  These conversations were inspired in part by the College's recent experience in expanding CCA’s successful MFA program in Design. During the course of researching advances in the design field, this group determined that one of the most significant emerging developments in the field involved the intersection of design and management.

At this point, CCA was fortunate to have advisors in this field and a culture of critique on which to build such an innovative program.  One such advisor is board member Tim Brown, who is CEO of IDEO, a leading international firm specializing in this area. With Mr. Brown's assistance, the college was able to draw on its distinctive culture and tradition to introduce a program that would benefit the fields of design and business. 

More specifically, CCA’s educational model relies heavily on continual, individualized assessment through critique, a methodology embedded in the proposed curriculum of the MBA in Design Strategy. CCA’s Design programs are also known for their faculty’s mastery of user-centered research and iterative creativity.  While the College will be expanding its offerings in accounting and related practices in order to serve the new program, we have a strong track-record in coursework serving professional development learning outcomes including ethics and entrepreneurship.

This allowed the college to proceeded to the next phase in program planning, hiring Nathan Shedroff as a consultant to conduct market research, build community in this area, and develop a curriculum.  He also met periodically with the Academic Committee of the Board of Trustees to apprise them of developments.  Mr. Shedroff is an Experience Strategist, CCA faculty member in Industrial Design, and holds an MBA from San Francisco's Presidio School of Management, an innovative program focused on business and sustainability. He researched similar programs internationally, surveyed students, recent graduates, and business and non-profit leaders concerning desired outcomes for a program focused on design strategy and viability of such a program. Through the college’s many contacts in the design and business communities, CCA’s faculty and administration were able to comprehensively assess the need for a new MBA program centered on design practices and learning methodologies.

Among the numerous meetings that were conducted to gather information and build community support was a Design Summit, held on January 16, 2007. This important gathering included key members of CCA's administration as well as local leaders in business, non-profit management, education, and design.  The administration was represented by the following attendees: President, Provost, Associate Dean of Graduate Studies, Dean of the College, Dean of Special Programs, and Project Consultant Nathan Shedroff (also a faculty member).  Faculty and community participants included Brenda Laurel, Chair of the MFA Program in Design; Trustee Tim Brown; Bill Wurz, designer; Diego Rodriguez, designer; Sara Beckman, faculty member, UC Berkeley Haas School of Business; Rob Forbes, business leader; Andre Carothers, Director, Rockwood Leadership Program; and Chuck Williams, Dean of the Eberhardt School of Business at University of the Pacific.

This group considered the potential audience, structure, and size of the proposed program as well as whether to collaborate with an existing MBA program or launch a new, freestanding program. Given the unique approach being considered, that is, a pedagogical structure based on design methodology (critique, iteration, and user-centered research), the consensus was that CCA could best build on its own strengths and capacities by moving forward on its own.  The group also determined that CCA would not pursue Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accreditation.

Progress on Professor Shedroff’s research and development was presented to the Academic Committee of the Board of Trustees on several occasions. Additionally, the Curriculum Committee of the Faculty Senate enthusiastically approved of the proposed program. In June 2007, following this internal approval process, Professor Shedroff was hired to chair the nascent program. He immediately formed a standing advisory board to help guide and review ongoing decisions about the program's curriculum and organization. This group meets approximately twice each year and its members are in frequent contact with the Chair.