Business schools Featured

8:00pm EDT September 20, 2006
Today’s business world is all about advancement. Stay still for too long and you get left behind.

A good way to get ahead is to obtain an MBA. Sharon P. Smith, provost and vice president for academic affairs for National University, says that now is as good a time as any to pursue that coveted degree and advance your career.

Smart Business spoke with Smith about how to find the right school for you and figure out if you’re ready to challenge yourself.

What is the climate like for business schools right now?
Over the last 50 years, the MBA degree has become the ticket of entry into the upper levels of management, whether as a filter for innate ability or because of the skills MBAs have mastered. MBAs comprise about 25 percent of all the master’s degrees awarded in the U.S. The number of MBAs granted has grown 65 percent since 1990-91, while the number of degrees in law and medicine has been nearly flat. The climate for business schools — like the climate for business — is challenging now.

The business world has been transformed by deregulation, the spread of information technology and globalization. Today’s manager needs a different set of skills and faces a different set of opportunities than the manager of 50 years ago. Today’s manager is a professional who needs specialized skills in such subjects as marketing, accounting, financial analysis, information technology, etc. Career advancement for this professional will depend on growing knowledge and reputations and won’t necessarily be linked to one firm.

The rise of the professional manager is both a consequence of the growth of the MBA degree and a validation of that degree. With these challenges in mind, it is a good time for people to pursue a business program both to demonstrate their innate abilities and to gain a strong foundation in the specialized skills managers need to operate effectively, skills they will build upon over a lifetime. At the same time, they will build on experiences they have already had and acquire personal networks to learn from and tap into both in school and afterwards.

What attributes should people look for when deciding on a business school? How do they know a business school is right for them and their personal goals?
When deciding on a business school, people should seek information from a variety of sources. They should examine the published ‘rankings’ from many sources, as these provide a variety of metrics to compare programs, though each is flawed and all focus most strongly on full-time programs. Students must also consider their own personal attributes as well as lifestyle and resources.

Those who are committed to a business career; who are willing to master rigorous, analytic methods; who like the idea of working in a large organization or as an entrepreneur; and who are willing to commit the time, money and energy for an MBA should certainly consider pursuing one.

Those who prefer isolated, independent activity; find change difficult; care little about the profit motive or competition; and have difficulty with quantitative analysis should probably pursue other paths.

If the MBA is the right path, then individuals must consider whether they’re willing and able to make the personal sacrifice to pursue studies full-time or whether they prefer to keep working while seeking an MBA.

Are most business schools offering an online option now as well?
Online learning is an important option that responds directly to the challenges of a global business world in which managers have neither fixed working hours nor a fixed work location. Online learning toward an MBA may be the only option for managers whose careers and lifestyles preclude full-time studies, as their work life may not accommodate attendance in onsite classes at a set time. Moreover, online learning may imitate their work life both now and in the future.

What are the payment options these days for people worried about not being able to afford a business school?
There are many payment options these days: loans, scholarships, tuition remission from employers. In assessing the right mode and program, students should consider that the largest expense of attending any school is the foregone income if studies are pursued full-time.

SHARON P. SMITH, Ph.D., is provost and vice president for academic affairs for National University. Rankings in this article are discussed in detail in the new book titled “Finding the Best Business School for You: Looking Past the Rankings,” by Everette E. Dennis and Sharon P. Smith. Reach Smith at (858) 642-8000.