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 www.mbaprograms.org, “ [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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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”.
- 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.