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Is the MBA Dead?

4 min read • Feb 20, 2019 • Barry Eitel

In 2018, several rounds of opinion pieces claimed that the classic MBA (that is, Masters of Business Administration) had finally died, or at the very least, was on life support.

Of course, like most pronouncements, they’ve yet to schedule a funeral where we can read these eulogies – there are thousands of MBA programs available across the world.

Still, many educational institutions are seriously reviewing their MBA programs. Additionally, how the real world perceives an MBA is changing, too, but in many ways, the MBA is very much alive.

Some declining stats

An October 2018 report from the Graduate Management Admission Council found the number of applications to MBA programs in the United States dropped in 2018 for the 4th consecutive year. Across all schools, the number of applications fell some 7%. Even hallowed institutions like Harvard saw their applications fall 4.5%.

Full-time MBA programs have been shuttering over the past decade, including legendary departments at the University of Iowa, Wake Forest University, and King’s College in London.

Many schools still tout their full-time MBA programs as a flagship, but some are wondering how current MBA programs will prepare students for the next generation of work. After all, the MBA is essentially a 20th-century institution – Harvard offered the first MBA courses in 1908 – and there is reason to believe business culture has changed in the 21st century.  

Taking your career to the next level

That said, an MBA still holds a lot of weight at many companies. Some corporations basically require an MBA for promotion to higher positions. About 40% of CEOs at companies in the top 100 of the Fortune 500 have an MBA. While the statistics show that an MBA is not necessary to go to the top of a company, it is certainly a major resume booster.

For those looking to switch careers, especially if you have a bachelors in an unrelated field, an MBA can make a big difference. This condition often holds true if you want to get into the financial sector or consulting field.

Building your network

A key, though tangential, part of any master’s program is building your professional network. You are stuck in classes with a cohort for 2 years full-time while studying for an MBA, so you will likely have strong feelings about each other.

Hopefully, those feelings are positive. Your classmates might be your future co-workers, or possibly even your employers.

Once you graduate with an MBA, you’re going out in the world with a network already established. While you could debate if the network is worth the student loan debt, it is an undeniable benefit of these programs.

Costs could drag down your small business

If you are interested in starting your own business, you should take a close look at the potential costs.

Student loan debt is a national crisis. Altogether, Americans carry an astounding total student loan burden of $1.52 trillion. This debt is owed by some 44 million borrowers, and that number is growing.

The problem for would-be entrepreneurs is two-fold. Monthly repayments on student loans can prevent you from investing that money in your business. Furthermore, banks may turn you down for business loans if you’re carrying a significant student loan burden.

Do you have the time?

A full-time MBA means you will likely spend 2 long years of your life studying, and you will probably pause your career during this time. Most likely, it will be impossible to hold down a full-time job at the same time.

There are some other options. Part-time MBAs, which often have night or weekend classes, are becoming more popular. Although Wake Forest closed down its full-time MBA program in 2014, its part-time program, founded in 2011, has seen its enrollment increase rapidly.

Online MBA programs are also an excellent choice. Western Governors University has a flexible program that is seeing much success – some students even finish an MBA in 13 months.

“I’m also impressed by the results in places like Western Governors University,” Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, told Forbes in 2012. “Its low-cost online programs rely on competency-based progression, not class-time or credit hours. It uses external assessments to evaluate student proficiency.”

Of course, not only does Gates not have an MBA, he dropped out of undergrad at Harvard.

An MBA is not a free pass to success

Maybe the most important thing to remember when considering applying for an MBA program is that the degree alone will not guarantee career triumph or a vast fortune. Hard work, networking, and some luck are still required alongside any MBA degree.

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Barry Eitel

Barry Eitel has written about business and technology for eight years, including working as a staff writer for Intuit's Small Business Center and as the Business Editor for the Piedmont Post, a weekly newspaper covering the city of Piedmont, California.