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What Good Is an MBA Anymore, Anyway?

What Good Is an MBA Anymore, Anyway?
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U.S. business schools have a very big problem: Not enough people want an MBA anymore.

Applications are down across the board. The U.S. labor market’s continued expansion provides little incentive for those contemplating a graduate business degree to spend the time and money to get one. Meanwhile, anti-immigration rhetoric and restrictive policies by the Trump administration are scaring off international students, a traditionally lucrative group that often pays full price rather than rely on scholarships.

Part of the problem is self-inflicted. Despite the decline in applications, universities continue to raise tuition, placing an MBA out of reach for all but the wealthiest—or those willing to wager significant debt against the possibility of a high-paying job.

All of this means that it’s truly a buyer’s market when it comes to MBAs. Deans must do more to sell their programs, and that means convincing prospective students that a well-paying job will materialize. Many B-schools are touting expanded experiential learning programs that put students inside companies. Some are working to expand their applicant pools via online course offerings for students who don’t want to relocate.

Bloomberg Businessweek spoke with deans at five U.S. business schools of varying sizes and rankings in our annual survey. They gave us their elevator pitch on why it’s still important to get an MBA, and why would be-students should attend their schools to get one.

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Relates to What Good Is an MBA Anymore, Anyway? Antonio Bernardo, dean of the UCLA Anderson School of Management, argues that an MBA is more valuable today than ever, in part because businesses are interacting more with stakeholders including regulators, particularly in the tech sector. B-school programs teach students how to deal with the various ethical and legal issues churned up by data privacy concerns, as well as the appropriate role corporations should play when it comes to other headline issues, such as environmental regulation and employee relations.

“The skills you learn in an MBA are probably more valuable than they have ever been,” Bernardo says. “And yet a lot of people are talking about it as if it’s a degree that is losing relevance.”

The Anderson School of Management, No. 12 in this year’s Bloomberg Businessweek ranking, benefits from its location in Los Angeles, a hub for technology, health-care, and media companies, many of which participate in the MBA program. In recent years, Anderson broadened the role of entrepreneurship in its degree program, enabling more students to create new businesses for their capstone project. Anderson also has a venture accelerator program in which students can spend six months creating their own company.

Brigitte Madrian, Marriott School of Business at Brigham Young University

Soaring tuition costs are an impediment to many who might otherwise seek an MBA. Brigitte Madrian, dean of the Marriott School of Business at Brigham Young University, says her program offers a relatively affordable alternative. Lower tuition costs are made possible, in part, because of financial support from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the school’s sponsor.

Tuition comes to $27,720 for the entire two-year program for members of the church; it costs twice that for everyone else. By comparison, the Mendoza College of Business at Notre Dame, ranked one spot below No. 27 Marriott, charges annual tuition of $56,338 for its two-year program.

“Our students leave with less than $25,000 debt on average,” Madrian says. “This relatively low debt burden allows them to think differently about their employment options after graduation, so they can focus less on starting salary and more on opportunities for professional growth and development.”

Read also: Business schools seek diverse talent to broaden leadership

Madrian, like Bernardo, emphasizes the breadth of experiential courses offered by the school. Among them is a program in which students invest the school’s venture capital fund or work on a consulting project with business clients.

Matthew Slaughter, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth

Regardless of the current state of the economy, Tuck School of Business Dean Matthew Slaughter says there will always be a sizable pool of applicants for MBA programs—individuals who see the degree as the ultimate source of analytical skills, functional expertise, and leadership capabilities that businesses will always seek out.

Slaughter says that Tuck, which leaped to the No. 2 slot, from No. 19, has been adapting its curriculum to keep up with what students and employers demand—a common theme among all five deans, given the prevalence of technological disruption across industries. The school recently retired its statistics and decisions sciences courses, repackaging them into a data analytics course that has students work with such innovative data programs as R and Tableau.

In 2017, Tuck introduced a suite of courses that require students to travel abroad. They’re typically taught by Tuck faculty and focus on a specific industry in the host country.

relates to What Good Is an MBA Anymore, Anyway?

Manoj Malhotra, dean of the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western University.

Manoj Malhotra, Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western University

Manoj Malhotra, dean of the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western University, says his school benefits from its location in Cleveland, given the health-care industry’s significant footprint in the area.

The school, which fell to No. 76, from No. 58, in the annual ranking, offers a joint executive MBA program with the Cleveland Clinic. Weatherhead also is developing a new health-care concentration for full-time students. Last fall, the school began an MBA STEM track that allows students to complement their main degree with technology-related courses. The program is particularly attractive to international applicants, he says, since it allows them to extend their training for three years without having to obtain a work visa.

Malhotra says it’s important that business schools focus on the fundamentals, such as cost accounting and financial analysis. “Is the sky falling? I don’t necessarily think so,” he says of the decline in applications. Indeed, Weatherhead is tightening its recruitment process to focus more on quality than quantity, he says, part of a drive for better results in internship placement and job opportunities.

Francesca Cornelli, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University

Francesca Cornelli says that an MBA program emphasizing teamwork and collaboration is the best way to prepare students for a fast-shifting corporate landscape. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that her school, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, has long placed a premium on teaching students how to work together in new and innovative ways.

“We are not just preparing you for the next job or the next five years,” she says of Kellogg, ranked No. 10. “We are preparing you to thrive in the world of change.”

While tuition at Kellogg is expensive—a one-year MBA costs $101,288—Cornelli says the results are worth it. Some 98% of Kellogg students receive a job offer within three months of graduation, she says. The median starting salary for graduates is $150,000.

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