First, the advice was, “Don’t go law school!”. Now, it’s also, “Don’t go to business school!” With stagnating salaries and surging debt levels, the MBA is no longer considered a certain path to financial success.
It strikes me as a real problem that more people are paying a lot for degrees that don’t necessarily boost their earning potential. It’s a symptom of two worrying economic trends: the relentless push for ever more educational credentials, and the stagnant labor market.
A weak economic climate is only partly to blame for the M.B.A.’s plight. The changing nature of B-school programs, evolving corporate needs—as well as the perceived value of the degree—have all helped dilute the M.B.A.’s allure.
Formerly, the traditional M.B.A. was mainly the product of a full-time, two-year program. But beginning in the early 1990s, many schools created part-time and executive M.B.A. programs, with lower-ranked schools often following in the footsteps of academic leaders. Online degrees also gained in popularity.
As a result, the number of M.B.A. degrees granted has grown faster than the population, says Brooks Holtom, a management professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.
“An M.B.A. is a club that is now not exclusive,” he says. “You should not assume that this less exclusive club is going to confer the same benefits.”
A change in hiring patterns indicates bachelor’s degrees are more in demand.
It is unclear how many M.B.A.s the market really needs. Recently, more companies have indicated that “they are moving away from an emphasis on M.B.A.s” and are instead hiring more undergraduates at lower salaries that they can then train in-house, says Camille Kelly, vice president of employer branding at Universum, a firm that advises companies on how to attract and retain the best employees. Companies, she says, “still will do M.B.A. hiring, but it won’t be to the same extent they have in the past.”
Advice from McCardle
… When young people ask me whether they should get an MBA, I give them the same advice that I got in the late 1990s: unless you can get into a top 10* (or have a very specific job that you know you can get by attending a regional program), then don’t. You’re too likely to end up with massive debt and no very good prospects for paying it.