Are MBA students getting a different deal than they were 10 years ago, or 20 years ago? Are the students themselves different? What about their post-graduate employment outlook?
Embarking on a post-graduate degree is a big decision, and before shelling out hundreds of thousands for a tertiary degree, you are going to want to know exactly what you are getting into. The MBA, like the economy, has changed with the times; here’s what you need to know
It all boils down to something pretty simple: yes, the MBA has changed, and yes, it’s still a prestigious degree that will set you on a path to business success.
If that’s all you needed to hear, then get back to studying for the GMAT or writing those essays! For those of you needing a little more information, here’s the skinny: the major factors that have changed in the MBA market are (1) higher level of competition amongst MBA programs and (2) a greater degree of specialization within those programs.
The MBA market has grown in the last 20 years, so not only are there more programs, but those programs are of greater variety. They span the globe and offer a different set of experiences–both in-person and online–so students can tailor their MBA experience to suit their needs, personalities, and even their availability.
When the Financial Times put out its 1999 ranking of MBA programs, there were no Asian programs on the list. By contrast, 2018’s FT ranking of MBA programs featured Asian b-schools galore—16 to be exact. Many of these programs are new (or new compared to well-known UK and US programs), and many more are on the rise. With the uptick of in-country options, more applicants from the East are choosing to skip the long haul and pursue an MBA closer to home. The further advantage being that these students get to earn their degree, build their networks and begin working immediately in the economies that everyone agrees are hot, and getting hotter. Recent political climates and less-than-friendly immigration rules (such as the lack of post-study work visa options in the US) further discourage applicants from these programs.
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But the competition in the MBA market isn’t just coming from Asia. Digital disruption hasn’t left the education sector untouched, and online MBAs are on the rise as MOOCs (massive open online courses) and other online education forums take off. From one-off courses offered by platforms from Coursera to LinkedIn, to full-on accredited MBA programs completed entirely online, the digital option is drawing in students who desire greater flexibility and whose availability or willingness to withdraw from the job market to complete their degree is low. This trend is likely to increase as technology and virtual education only gets better, and with schools like IE and Imperial College London leading the way, many of these programs are top of the line.
Despite this rising competition, the top-ranked programs in the US and the UK are still just that … top-ranked, and the demand to enter these programs and earn a brand-name degree is still high. The increased availability of in-country programs and online programs may draw some students to these alternative options, but the traditional, in-person, top-notch programs still have the global draw that makes them the most prestigious (and competitive) programs on the block.
One way for these programs to remain as competitive, relevant, and in-demand as they have traditionally been is to continue on the second trend we’ve seen the MBA follow in recent years: specialization. While once upon a time, generalization was the highly valued hallmark of MBA programs, there is more and more demand (and hence more and more supply) of specialization within the MBA—in everything from marketing and retail to healthcare.
Students increasingly want to gain not just the MBA degree and the general management proficiency that comes with it, but special insight and expertise in their industry of choice. While MBA students have always come from varied backgrounds, they are no longer looking for a common degree output. As a result, business schools have upped their game by offering specialized programs tailored to the aspirations of their MBA candidates.
In addition to specialization by subject, MBA programs that are wise enough to turn their strategic eye inward have begun to assess how well their own academic models work, and are diversifying their program offerings in terms of fit and flexibility. Many are offering some aspects of courses online, or flexible programs that combine specialties in business and something else entirely. Specialization is a tall order, but b-schools know that they must start adapting to the evolving MBA environment if they want to stand a chance against giants like Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton.
A Final Thought …
Perhaps the most important thing for MBA candidates is understanding how the job market has changed how it perceives MBA degree holders. There’s good and bad news there. By and large, an MBA still puts you on the path to business success, be it in health care management, consulting, entrepreneurship, or … whatever floats your boat. However, according to a GMAC study, U.S. employers looking to hire MBAs did fall from 91% in 2017 to 85% this year, the largest fall since the recession. BUT don’t toss your MBA plans out the window just yet as it’s likely this is just a fluke. With entrepreneurship becoming an increasingly popular reason to pursue an MBA, this stat may have more to say about MBA candidates post-study goals than the worthiness of the MBA degree itself.
The bottom line is the MBA is as worthy a pursuit now as it was 20 years ago, and you have MORE options to choose from now that will allow you to tailor your degree to exactly what you want and need. The real trick is choosing what kind of program and what specialization, if any, is right for you.
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