(FORTUNE Magazine) – It looks like a small, elite college: an ivy-covered classroom building, a wooded, rolling campus. But don't be fooled -- this place is 100% business. It's Crotonville, home of General Electric's Management Development Institute, the Harvard of corporate America. ''I've almost never missed a class,'' says CEO Jack Welch (Ph.D. in chemical engineering, University of Illinois '60). His monthly visits to Crotonville are ''a great way to take the pulse of the organization'' in Q&A sessions with GE managers. The informal academic setting lets him hear from people he wouldn't encounter in the ordinary course of business. The students, 120 a week, get an education that alumni and professors say can hold its own against the best university business schools. Says former vice chairman Lawrence Bossidy (BA, Colgate '57): ''You get a better exposure to quantification at a place like the University of Chicago, but Crotonville might have a better management program. It's just so relevant.'' Crotonville's 160-page catalogue offers entry-level studies in manufacturing and sales, seminars in personnel relations and marketing strategy, a course for engineers and English majors called Eyawtkaf (Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Finance), and advanced management training. Tuition ranges from $800 for a half-week conference for all new professional hires to $14,000 for the four- week Executive Development Course, GE's most advanced offering. A student's home business pays the tab. One of Crotonville's strengths is its faculty, headed by James Baughman, who gave up a professorship at Harvard business school in 1980 to take the post. With no tenured professors, Baughman can cherry-pick, with the world as his orchard. In any given week you might find scholars from Harvard (John Kotter), Wharton (Ian MacMillan), Insead (Andre Laurent), and elsewhere. Crotonville has long influenced business school curriculums. Noel Tichy, a professor at the University of Michigan and former head of management education at Crotonville, says the Blue Books -- GE's bible of scientific management -- ''became the template for B-school curriculums in the Sixties, helping those places become more than trade schools.'' The place is setting standards again. ''Crotonville pioneered action learning and team learning, which are the innovations in business schools now,'' says Harvard's Len Schlesinger. Next spring, for instance, Tichy will offer students at Michigan a chance to spend seven weeks working intensively on real issues confronting GM, Kmart, and others, just the sort of thing Crotonville does using situations at GE. ''If we pull it off,'' says Tichy, ''every business school in the country will have to get into it.''