Is an MBA Worth It?

Current statistics state that the average cost of an MBA degree is in excess of $40,000 per year with some programs costing as much as $60,000 a year for a typical two year program. And according to, “ [T]he tuition cost of an MBA is more often than not an indication of its quality and regard among employers.”  There clearly is a mythology in play that says that corporations highly covet MBA’s, particularly from the top schools.

Here are some observations that might cause everyone to at least re-evaluate the value of an MBA degree more objectively.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I hold an MBA degree.

  1. I have worked with MBA’s from the top programs in the country including Harvard, Wharton, and Kellogg.  I have also worked with those who earned their degrees from one of the many other MBA programs – usually in the evening while working.  There have been, what I would call, outstanding managers and leaders from both camps.  And there have been some whom I would consider dangerous to themselves and others – abject disasters as business managers.  My conclusion is that those high potential business people would have been high potential even without the MBA degree.
  2. I have also met a number of MBA’s – even from top schools – whose technical skills – being able to read financial statements, or create a business plan, etc. were first rate.  But whose reasoning ability – the capacity to understand the second, third, and fourth order consequences of a decision – and the ability to get work done through others was sorely lacking.
  3. Most MBA curricula focus on teaching business basics – the same basics that one would also get in an undergraduate business degree program- often taught by the same faculty using the same text books – except that the course numbers indicate a graduate school designation.  And because the courses are not cross-disciplinary, the curriculum reinforces the prevalent silo orientation of most corporations that organize around accounting, marketing, finance, and manufacturing functions.
  4. Most business school faculties have a strong academic orientation.  That fact has at least two implications.  First, what gets taught is taught from a very theoretical perspective. Second, faculty get promoted not for their teaching but for their research.  So corporations that hire MBA’s have to spend time teaching them “how things really work”.
  5. From having been an adjunct MBA professor for about 18 years,  many of the MBA students that I encountered lacked basic writing skills.

For what it is worth, I think corporations need to re-think their hiring practices and critically assess the value of an MBA.  At the same time, take a look at outstanding liberal arts graduates who have learned how to think, and write, and communicate. And who know how to learn. I can assure you that this pool could learn the basics of business (e.g., how to create and read financial statements, how to do a business plan, how a business makes its product or service and its money, and marketing principles) in less than six months – probably even in six weeks. By far one of the best MBA students that I taught was graduate of a liberal arts college whose whole curriculum is based on reading great books and writing about them – and she has been a quick learner in every position she has had.  So think about it.


  1. Chris Gordon says:

    Way to go! This confirms everything I tell students (some of which I heard from a form Dean of the College of Liberal Arts who, when he met with 12 top Minnesota CEOs, discovered that all 12 held liberal arts undergrad degrees.

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  1. […] There has been a lot of chatter on Brazen Careerist, Life Without Pants, and Untemplater about the pro’s and con’s of returning to school to pursue another degree.  In an interview at Untemplater,  Alexandra Levit says she is cautious about the idea of getting an MBA – unless you want to be a brand manager.  Matt Cheuvront flatly says “I’ll never go back to school again” on his blog. I’ve already weighed in on my opinion of whether or not an MBA is worth it. […]

  2. […] Article: Is an MBA Worth it? @ […]

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