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The Rise of the “In House” MBA

May 01, 2019 :: Alex Collazo

Life is more convenient when your boss is also running your MBA

In the part-time MBA world, eliminating friction is the key to success. Weekend, nights, online—there are a lot of ways business schools can make it easier for busy managers to get a degree. But these strategies are not always enough. EMBA programs often have lower on-time graduation rates than MBA programs in general, and our clients report that balancing coursework and their professional obligations is often harder than they expected. Wouldn’t it be nice if the MBA was just part of your job?

That’s the idea behind “in house” or industry MBAs. Following the trend towards industry-specific professional degrees to its logical extreme, an industry MBA prepares students for leadership at a single specific company. Applicants must be employees of that company and, if accepted, they follow a schedule and curriculum jointly developed by their employer and a partner business school.

Leading this charge is investment giant Vanguard, whose Vanguard Drexel MBA was recently profiled by the Philadelphia Inquirer. The program addresses all the frictions commonly faced by part-time students. Hard to commute to classes? There’s a convenient satellite campus a short walk away. No time for homework or classes? It’s scheduled into your workday. One of the graduation requirements not relevant to your industry? The company cut it from the curriculum. And of course, the program is sponsored, with a near guarantee of promotion upon graduation.

This is hardly the first time that a company has devised an executive training program that resembled an MBA (see early Six Sigma at GE). What’s new is business schools’ willingness to lend their name, professors, and resources to such programs. As applications to traditional two year MBA programs stagnate or decline, more universities are open to partnerships with industry, including big names like Stanford and NYU Stern.

What remains to be seen is what form these new programs will take. The Vanguard Drexel MBA is much closer to an MBA than an internal certification—Drexel is responsible for 70 to 80 percent the program. There are also less involved models that resemble Harvard’s Program for Leadership Development, a high-speed, six month not-quite-EMBA.

Whether an industry MBA has much value outside the company that commissioned it depends on how it is structured, and how much it resembles a traditional EMBA or part-time MBA. Strong MBA candidates will usually get more value out of a general MBA degree, but for those interested in sticking with their employer for the long haul, or unwilling to pay for a degree, an industry MBA is a very convenient option. Check if your employer has one! We wouldn’t recommend applying for ONLY the company program, but it’s certainly a good option to add to your school list.


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