Lifelong learning Featured

7:00pm EDT February 24, 2008

Obtaining a master of business administration (MBA) can be a long, arduous process. “The MBA is not an easy postgraduate degree to earn — but it’s worth every penny and every drop of sweat,” says Dr. Rick Schroath, dean of the Graduate School of Management at Kent State University.

“The pace of change in business — and society in general — is such that you cannot ignore continuing education, whether you’re an electrician, a chemical engineer or a business manager,” he says.

An MBA is a management degree that has applications across a broad set of expanding fields. Historically, it’s been deemed a corporate phenomenon, but it’s starting to make an impact in smaller professional businesses like architecture, law and medicine, which also need specialized knowledge to manage the business side of the organization.

“The challenge in earning an MBA is that someone used to doing quantitative analytical work will have to face the creative human interaction of marketing, HR management and leadership courses. Creative or people-oriented candidates will have to contend with the statistics, managerial economics, finance and analytical work.”

Smart Business spoke with Schroath about the advantages of an MBA and the time and commitment required.

Is having the MBA degree in hand a career door opener?

The prototypical part-time MBA student is on the verge of moving from a supervisory position to a management position. An MBA provides the management skills that are valued by upper management.

What are some of the courses needed to attain an MBA?

You begin with courses that, in part, provide self-assessment, like a leadership course. You then typically move into an analytical set of nuts-and-bolts courses, like managerial economics, statistics, finance and accounting.

In the intermediate phase, you move into international business, advanced finance and accounting, general management and human resources management. Culminating courses include strategy courses that are much more oriented toward large organizational overviews.

What kind of commitment is required of part-time MBA students?

As little as 10 to 15 years ago, the classic path to an MBA was to work for four or five years, exit the labor force, go to school for two years and look for another job. That’s just not realistic anymore. More people are choosing part-time MBA programs because they do not want to leave current employment but still need the job enhancements.

The joy of part-time study is that it’s very flexible. You can emulate a full-time MBA by going four nights a week and taking four courses. Typically, students elect to take one or two courses per term, which can take up to six years — the maximum time you have to complete the degree. Three or four years is typical of our students, depending on whether they go summers, skip a term, etc. At Kent State, there is a 3:1 ratio of part-time to full-time enrolled MBA students.

What kind of financial commitment is required by prospective students?

Financial commitment varies depending on the program. Elite private schools are very expensive. State schools are typically much less. Online degrees are an option now, too. But prospective students also should be concerned with quality. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International (AACSB International) is the accrediting body that awards the highest level of accreditation to business schools.

Are online courses opening up new horizons for people seeking an MBA degree?

They certainly are. What I look for is ‘blended learning,’ partly in person, partly online. Certainly, there are many components that students can learn perfectly well online, especially if they’re computer-literate.

There are some courses, however, that really need that ‘high-touch’ component, like a human resources management course in interviewing skills or a quantitative analytical course where students need the coaching. Another function that cannot be delivered online is student-to-adviser and student-to-student social networking.

Is there a time when a person no longer has the capacity to earn an MBA?

Albert Schweitzer went to medical school later in life. Not everybody can do that, but if you’ve got the drive and motivation, you can do it anytime. Recently, we’ve been seeing a peculiar new phenomenon: baby boomers who retire, then go back to school for an MBA and start a second career — many times, starting their own businesses. So the term ‘lifelong learning’ has, indeed, become reality.

RICK SCHROATH is dean of the Graduate School of Management at Kent State University. Reach him at (330) 672-2282 or gradbus@kent.edu.