Continued education Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2007
With so many program offerings from so many different sources, people seeking an MBA might become disenchanted with the idea that it will make them stand out from the pack.

Fear not, says Dr. Harry Lasher, director of the Career Growth MBA, Master of Accounting and WebMBA programs of the Michael J. Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University. The key is finding a program with the proper quality, innovatively focusing on the challenges and opportunities in our international world of business and accreditation that fits your own individual needs.

Smart Business spoke with Lasher about how to distinguish good MBA programs from bad and the numerous reasons that MBA programs are worthwhile.

Why does it seem more important than ever for business people to continue their education?

In the past, firms were willing to pay a premium for an employee to earn an MBA because that person could theoretically perform at a higher level and make greater contributions. An MBA, however, is merely a piece of paper if the individual cannot perform.

Today, people are beginning to realize that they can enhance their marketability and increase the number of options they have. The temporary nature of the work setting, the complexity of decision-making, the problem-solving and the speed of everything has ratcheted up. People are looking for ways to be more effective in the work setting.

Business organizations value innovation, change and speed in our global competitive environment. We may be getting to a point where the MBA in the work setting is going to become as much of an expectation as the undergraduate degree was in business. But firms aren’t necessarily willing to pay as great a premium for an MBA these days, so it really falls back to the individual being able to perform at a higher level. This is especially true for the individual pursuing a part-time MBA while continuing to develop a career.

How do you differentiate one MBA program from another?

Almost every program is regionally accredited, meaning that it has to meet some basic quality standards. One differentiating factor is the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), the premier international accreditation agency of business programs. There are probably 3,500 colleges of business or business programs in the U.S., some online, some that offer full-time and part-time MBA programs — the growth is in the part-time market — but probably not more than 450 are accredited with AACSB. If I were looking, that’s the one quality assurance I would really lean on.

Another factor is the rankings we see in print. However, some excellent schools refuse to participate in the rankings and some ranked schools are suspect. There are multiple criteria used and it’s like comparing apples and oranges.

Another way to differentiate MBA programs is to talk with alumni, members of the business community, and people currently involved in a program to get their opinions related to quality of courses, relevancy of faculty and quality of other students.

What sort of MBA programs are becoming the most popular?

Part-time programs are growing in popularity, to the point where some full-time programs are reducing class sizes. Part-time programs are becoming popular because people can keep their jobs and continue performing in their organization, which is a wonderful place to apply what you’re learning.

We’re witnessing a ‘de-jobbing’ of America where jobs are being replaced with the concept of work. A person needs to deal with different flows of information and the complexity and speed of decisions, demonstrate leadership, proactively engage in innovation and change, and demonstrate additional skills and success behaviors. All those are additional reasons why I believe part-time MBA programs are growing.

Businesses for the most part are not enamored with online MBA programs. Only 4 percent indicate that they see it as equivalent in terms of quality to corporate and university-based programs. But you can enroll in some corporate and univeristy programs that have a mixed delivery of face-to-face and online formats. There are also hybrid courses where a faculty member meets with a class for two to three sessions, students work on projects, usually in teams, where they apply what they learned, then come back three to four weeks later, discuss results with everyone in the learning community and then engage in additional projects.

This is all facilitated with technology such as Vista or Blackboard electronic classrooms, and intranets within business organizations. This is very appealing to people who are involved with a lot of business travel, because they can connect to the Internet and work with others while at different locations.

DR. HARRY LASHER is director of the Career Growth MBA, Master of Accounting and WebMBA progams in the Michael J. Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University. Reach him at (770) 423-6041 or hlasher@kennesaw.edu.