Underestimating the Value of an MBA: The Latest Fad

by Anthony L. Liuzzo, J.D., Ph.D.

shutterstock_232590190Why go back to a university after all these years just to incur mounds of student debt? Why learn finance, marketing and leadership skills when there are numerous examples of successful entrepreneurs who founded businesses without getting advanced degrees? Why try to learn business content in a world where ever-changing technology creates dinosaurs faster than Steven Spielberg?

Because it’s the smart move!!!

All one needs to do is to ask the experts — the individuals who have actually put in the time, energy, financial resources and personal commitment to earn an MBA. A 2014 Alumni Perspective’s Survey, conducted by the Graduate Management Admissions Council, found that more than 90 percent of MBA graduates rated their degrees in business as good to outstanding. This was not just some pollster telephoning a small number of people at dinnertime asking a few questions — more than 21,000 business school graduates responded to this survey.

Ninety-five percent of these respondents believed their MBA experience was personally rewarding, and 90 percent believed it was professionally rewarding. Given what they know now, 96 percent of the business school alumni surveyed said they would still pursue their degree. Interestingly, the survey found little to no distinction between responses of MBA graduates who completed their degree in a period of economic downturn versus those who graduated when the economy was thriving.

It is certainly true that, in an economy still suffering from the effects of recession, the concern for student debt fueled by the rising cost of education may raise a degree of skepticism in those considering furthering their business education. However, the value of an MBA from an accredited institution that fits individual students’ needs can help to stimulate entrepreneurial thinking skills, and further advance these students’ careers.

Even in times of economic downturn, many MBA graduates have reported they still value the investment they made into earning an MBA. In a recent article published by Harvard Business Review, with respect to the financial rewards attributable to an MBA degree, those graduating in periods of downturn were actually slightly more likely to rate their MBA as being a vital contributor to their employment and financial compensation. Eighty-four percent of respondents maintained that their degree was essential to their employment.

Hiring of MBAs is also predicted to increase more than 16 percent this year, indicating that the MBA degree continues to gain value in determining career placement. Furthermore, a recent study published by the College Board depicts median annual salaries for individuals holding master’s degrees as $90,000, while those holding bachelor’s degrees earn only $56,500.

Some skeptics of the MBA cite the out-datedness of business school curricula. Recently, however, great numbers of schools have begun infusing new ways of stimulating creativity into their programs, which can help spur innovative and entrepreneurial thought processes in the minds of MBA candidates. Themes of entrepreneurship, venture capital, product innovation and contagion — that is, how ideas go viral — have made their way into the curriculum and inculcate value to many business school programs.

Aspiring entrepreneurs are also considering the networking values an MBA program presents. The graduate business school experience allows future business leaders to meet and collaborate. Entrepreneurs can, in turn, find those with like mindsets and passion for success, and after completion of their degree they may choose to start a business together. This environment that MBA students experience is unique to business schools, because there are many talented individuals from whom to seek knowledge, and there is little risk associated with failure — if the startup does not work, the students can simply commence a job search. This gives time for young entrepreneurs to fine-tune their startup planning and vision, and to seek advice from their professors on how to correct mistakes.

The Graduate School of Business at Stanford University has seen a record 18 percent of 2013’s graduating class elect to start a business. Compared with the class of 2007, five times as many 2013 Wharton business school graduates have started their own business immediately after completion of their degree. At the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, 40 percent of the class of 2015 is studying entrepreneurship. This movement toward entrepreneurship reflects the mindset of modern business students, who tend to be less interested in Wall Street and more interested in what they can learn to grow their own businesses and emulate the likes of those in Silicon Valley.

Mr. Spielberg, you will need to look elsewhere for your dinosaurs. Investing in one’s education by earning an MBA is certainly not worthless. This is solidly proven by hard data.

Anthony L. Liuzzo, J.D., Ph.D., serves as director of Arizona Business Programs and professor of Business and Economics at Wilkes University in Mesa, Arizona, and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

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