The Haas School of Business at Berkeley has announced that the School's Center for Executive Education will now offer all Berkeley MBAs, starting with the graduating class of 2011, the opportunity to hone their business skills through a two-day free training in any among a range of courses.

This offer will be open to all alumni from the three MBA programs that Berkeley offers - Full-time, Evening & Weekend, and Berkeley-Columbia Executive MBA - during the first five years of graduation.

Sounds familiar? Not surprising, given that it was just over a month ago that another top business school - the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania - announced, along with its elaborate plans for a curriculum overhaul, its decision to offer alumni tuition free executive education once in every seven years during their professional lives.  Announcing the offer, Professor G. Richard Shell, Chair of the MBA Review Committee that created the new design had said Changing careers and a changing world bring new problems and the need for new knowledge...our goal is that all of our alumni will remain at the forefront of business knowledge and practice throughout their careers.

Berkeley-Haas, too, seems to be guided by much the same philosophy with one of the four defining principles being Students Always. In fact, complimentary education for alumni is not altogether a new concept. Since 2004, Berkeley MBA alumni have come back to Berkeley-Haas to take a graduate-level course each fall and spring semester for free, as availability allows, under the Alumni Audit Program. Approximately 200 alumni take advantage of this program each academic year. In addition, all Haas alumni enjoy a 15 percent discount for any open enrollment executive education course they attend. The latest offer will make it possible for alumni to apply for free participation in a variety of open enrollment courses.

So, is this a trend that we are seeing? Continuing education has been almost like a requirement for progressing in many professional disciplines. However, for a majority of management professionals, it was never really looked upon as an imperative until the recent past when dynamism and change emerged as a constant reality. As Professor Shell points out in an interview on Marketplace, the American Public Media program Lawyers have continuing education, that's a requirement of maintaining their license to practice law. Physicians have continuing education... And instead of thinking of an MBA as something that you came (to), did for two years, and then the only other touch (with which) was reunions, we see this as a huge opportunity for our graduates to continue to refresh their knowledge and for them to continue to refresh us.

The last statement points to a very pertinent reality for all B-schools - alumni are not just their brand ambassadors but also a key resource in terms of access to feedback from industry on expectations from business education as well as an invaluable network that attracts a large proportion of their current students. Giving them more by way of such offers would not only ensure that at every turn of their career they know more than what they did when they left school, but it would also help the schools strengthen this very important network and thus, remain aligned with the needs of the market and innovate on content and delivery accordingly.