MBA programs are opting for core skills training, on-thejob experience, and entrepreneurial-focused curricula . BILL DOYLE FIGURES he's picked the perfect time to shoot for his MBA. The 2002 Stanford grad now first-year MBA candidate at UC Berkeley's Hass Business School has spent the past six years working as an asset manager for affordable housing developers such as San Francisco-based Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corp. (TNDC), as well as writing market reports for big builders including Lennar and Pulte. "There's so much that's going on with housing, development, and of course, the economy," Doyle says. "It's a good time to be at school for a couple of years."

Too bad Doyle and his fellow first-years at Berkeley can't wax poetic on the credit crisis with their professors: Instead, they're committed to intensive core studies in economic fundamentals, statistics, and finance. "With everything we have to cover, there's literally no time to look at current events in the classroom," Doyle says. In year two, Doyle's curriculum will focus on real estate development, and he's already attending weekly speaker events hosted by the MBA program's real estate club. Everything about the program is hardcore and hands-on. It's a drastic change from the MBA culture of the 1990s, which focused on highaltitude theoretical management doctrines oft criticized for molding business execs who could talk it but rarely walk it. "There has been some criticism that MBA programs had become more remote from business, and I think schools have responded to that," explains Larry Pulley, dean of the College of William & Mary's Mason School of Business. "A lot of business schools [want] to give students a better sense of actual decision-making in real business environments. Our focus is to put business back at the center."

At William & Mary, that means getting out of the classroom for week-long, on-the-job training at businesses such as Washington, D.C.-based Carlisle Group, which pairs each MBA candidate with a mentor. Back in Berkeley, it means putting firstyears like Doyle into programs traditionally pegged for secondand third-year candidates. "I'm participating in the University of Texas, Austin's Real Estate Challenge put on by Goldman Sachs. It pits the top 15 MBA programs against each other to put together a real-world investment: financing, equity raise, expected returns, everything."

Penciling out deals like that should help Doyle with his career goals. "I'd like to work with Lennar on the redevelopment of Hunters Point in San Francisco," he says. "Long term? I'd like to start my own development shop?a mix of for-profit and low-income tax credit housing." With today's hands-on MBA models, that's a win/win paradigm that Doyle is just as likely to reach as he is to conceptualize.