have MBAs been devalued by the crisis?

Graduation Cake GuyWhen I went to graduate school, an MBA was still an achievement – it almost guaranteed getting the job you wanted and conferred an impressive status (at least in the business world) on anyone who held one. Consequently, the popularity of the MBA grew and grew over the last couple of decades.  In today’s corporate world – at least in New York – you can’t throw a pencil in a conference room without hitting an MBA.

I found myself wondering yesterday whether the current crisis has devalued the MBA. President Bush is the first president with an MBA.  No doubt many of the men (and don’t doubt for a minute that the overwhelming majority were men) who crafted the clever securities now causing so much commotion were MBAs, as well.

So will the nation see a drop in business school applicants, both from disgust with the horrible way in which these executives have handled the crisis (and before that, their companies) and due to fear of a vastly shrunken market?  I think we will see that. I think this crisis will make a lot of young people wonder if Wall Street is such a great place to work.  I think more college graduates will pause before assuming that they want to incur more debt just to get a degree to work in an industry in massive flux.

Only time will tell, of course… but I think an MBA today won’t be worth as much as it was even a year ago.

photo credit: CarbonNYC

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23 comments

  • Chad @ Sentient Money

    I had the same thoughts as the first poster. There are other forces devaluing the MBA, and other Masters degrees for that matter, outside of this downturn. There are just too many programs.

  • I agree. MBA programs have sprouted like weeds in colleges around the country and on the Internet. They are first and foremost cash cows for their sponsors. The education provided has been watered down with concentrations like “leadership.” Save your money and start a business.

    • I totally agree. I've been debating for years now wether I should get my MBA or not. And so far it's all against it. I even took GMAT but still not convinced it's the best thing to do.

  • NY Times' freakonomics blog (I think; one of their blogs anyway) had a whole loooong comments thread essentially answering that question – if you're a finance student (or MBA student) or were planning to be one soon, have you changed your mind. It was interesting reading.

    • My little sister just started her freshman year in Stern @ NYU…. To be honest, we are even afraid to ask her now if she changed her mind or not. We were all against it, plus she took out a huge loan,,, ugh, don't ask…… Bad decisions all around! I think the whole family is resigned to let her make her own mistakes if she really, really wants to. But she is really excited to be in college. Hopefully she will change her mind. The worst is for seniors who are about to graduate with a finance or accounting degree and not that many jobs to go around.

  • I agree that I think people will begin questioning whether or not to pursue an MBA, but for a different reason. I don't think they view the mishaps of certain people to discredit their potential MBA. I think it's more of a “Is it worth it?” situation. To get an MBA requires time and money, a lot of young professionals don't have. Yes there are loans that help, but is it really worth taking out a ridiculous loan and delay working for an MBA in these times? In an age of Web 2.0 and social media and blogging, many people are successful without MBA's. I think in the traditional corporate world an MBA still has high relevancy, but it doesn't apply everywhere and people are starting to figure it out.

    Craig
    http://www.budgetpulse.com

  • Hmm. I don't know, normally applications to graduate schools surge during a recession as people without jobs find something else to do with their time.

    Who's to say that in 2-3 years time, we won't be out of this mess anyway.

  • I agree with plonkee. When people lose their jobs, a few tend to return to where they had their last success. For many people, especially people in their 20s, they return to school.

    And don't forget that the Enron, WorldComm, and [insert crappy company here] scandals, which pointed lots of fingers at Accounting and Auditing firms, only made those industries stronger. This calamity will do the same.

    Congress will over-react and put a lot more regulations in place. Smart folks with accounting and auditing backgrounds will be in greater demand than ever, just to “watch over the hen house.”

    It may be painful to get an MBA, but it will pay off, especially since it seems everybody nowadays has a college degree.

  • Yeah I think an MBA will have less value but I think there are two reasons for that:
    1) Every business school is offering an MBA. One from harvard or Wharton will still carry weight, along with the network of business contacts, but one from some random place… nah, not anymore.
    2) Financial companies are hurting, so the demand for MBAs will be lower as is their value to a company simply because the pie is smaller.

  • Greg the Writer

    Degrees have an extrinisic meaning to them I believe. Though an MBA degree may become less wanted or desirable, it is only so to other people. The things it teaches you is what you should be using, not what others think of it.

    And perhaps now instead of an MBA student focusing on the Wall Street dream, they'll focus on other sectors of what an MBA can do. Wall Street, though famous throughout the world, is still just one sector of business. There is so many things out there for the creative mindset, and where there is a will there is almost undeniably a solution waiting to be birthed.

    Your Alaskan friend
    -Greg

  • I definitely think it has the potential to devalue an MBA, as well as reduce the demand. This is the biggest financial scare that many people of graduate school age have experienced (as well as older people!) With all of the layoffs in the financial sector, it will certainly reduce demand and job security, and although it could recover over time, it may not ever regain its previous popularity.

  • I don't think they'll become less popular. MBAs are closely tied to earning power (at least in people's minds), so they will always chase after the money. And Wall Street types always feel the same way about these kinds of events: “I wouldn't have messed up.”

  • I took a class with many MBAs at one of the top MBA programs in the US, UNC-Chapel Hill. As is usually the case in these programs, there were a lot of group projects. It was amazing how few of them could spell or write a coherent paragraph.

    • Anon, I took an honors statistics class and I had a young professor who could barely speak English, let alone write a “coherent” sentence. It was a small class, about 5-6 students and we ALL had hard time understanding him – we all failed our first midterm.

    • There is a difference between not able to understand someone and the person not able to speak english. American students in general we suck at math, and statistics is even worse. Professors go through length interviews before they get a job offer. If your stats professor survived the interview to get his job, I think you need to learn a second language to better understand people with different backgrounds. I did exactly that, and it really helped.

    • So I should've learned Chinese in order to understand my prof.? Doesn't make any sense in American college. I don't know what kind of interview process he went through, but I am also an immigrant and English was not my native language. So trust me, I know something about people with different background. And, Adam, I was not an American student who sucked at math. I went through a Soviet school, where we started learning algebra in 6th grade and trigonomerty 7-8 grades and know calculus by the time we graduated from school. They didn't wait to teach us calculus in College like they do in America. I had to take Calculus in college as a prerequisite for other classes and I was bored out of my mind b/c it was so easy for me and I just couldn't understand how hard it was for American students. You are right about this – American students do suck at math.

  • I've had these thoughts for over a year now… I was planning on getting an MBA, but the proliferation of programs and subsequent watering down of the value made me hold off from going for it right away. I wanted to make sure it was something I wanted and needed, vs. something I was just getting to hang on my wall.

    I still think MBAs are valuable, but they have the most value if they are from a highly regarded university – basically all the top tier schools. After that it really depends on your industry, region, focus, school network and various other factors. I still may get an MBA, but only because I want to learn the knowledge, not because I think it will make me CEO. (that and the MGIB will pay for most of it).

    MBAs aren't for everyone, and to think otherwise is to walk with blinders on.

  • I think that too many people are going to grad school period for the wrong industries. A few years ago, it made sense to get an MBA to work in finance or to secure a job as a CEO/COO, etc. But lately I've heard of a lot of people who work in publishing going back to school to get a Masters and I have to wonder why. Publishing tends to not pay very well unless you're at the top of your company, and there aren't many of those jobs anyway.

    I don't understand the logic of these students' decisions to get their Masters when there's only a tiny chance that they'll make enough money to pay their degree off. It seems to be based more on intellectual status rather than on smart financial acumen.

  • I'm a female MBA who has not regretted going (and the huge bill) for a moment. It's as much about the contacts and resetting your mindset (i.e. in order to get a salary you want, you must earn that much for your company and then some). My advice: go full-time, live like a pauper while in and go as early in your career so that you extract a lot of value over a long career

    • I am sure there are other ways to make contacts and network. You don't need MBA for that. I still keep in touch with people that I worked with 10 years ago. I used to intern in a Danish bank that since been merged and acquired, but we all meet for Holiday luncheon every year to catch up.

  • I think MBA's were 'devalued' about 10 years ago when 'everybody' started to get their MBA's … good ol' supply and demand in action (MBA Economics 101).

    The next wave will be the crash in general business & finance degrees, for the same reason.

    The BEST school is still the 'school of hard knocks' … save the time that you would have put into any post-grad degree that isn't directly tied to specific employment (e.g. medical specialist) and put that effort into learning business by starting a (part-time) business.

  • There are a lot of schools today whose planning to increase their tuition fee, today is really a crisis.

  • There are a lot of schools today whose planning to increase their tuition fee, today is really a crisis.