Monday, May 08, 2006

More About Business Schools


Last Saturday, I published my list of the Top 25 Online MBA Schools in the US. I noted at the time, that I was using some pretty general definitions and only one salient criteria. It might make sense for me to explain that criteria in more detail and context.

The nominal lists of top business schools, such as one sees published in Business Week, US News & World Report, or The Wall Street Journal, are based on the expectations of the standard graduate from full-time programs and on the assumption that the student fits into a narrow demographic; essentially the 24-to-28 year old with a Bachelor’s in Business plus an appropriate employment background, a documented success in Undergraduate results by GPA, major, and school of recognized name, as well as a clear track indicating future success, as defined by an exceptional GMAT score, resume, recommendation from employers, or some combination of the three. The assumption further presumes that the student intends to pursue executive positions at high-profile financial firms, or else to pursue a high-capital opening in such venues as Entreprenuership. Frankly, the assumption seems to me to suggest that the top schools are suited to students who wish to work in major cities on the East or West Coast, in Investment Banking, High-Margin Marketing, or similar high-profile positions. The problems include determining what is best for those who wish to live and work in less urban conditions, who prefer operational responsibilities, and those whose personal demographic is less suited to the extrovert and the volatile. Also, it occurs to me that as often happens in high-demand degrees, many of these would-be CEOs are going to find that there are far less openings in their desired niche than graduates with such degrees. So, I find it better to weigh a school on the basis of its overall education, specifically making the student capable to address a range of responsibilities and positions. This not only provides the student with many more choices for his applications following school, but makes him more attractive to companies seeking a broader skill set. This redirection makes the magazine rankings a bit suspect, therefore, since they tend to key on only one aspect of the school as a primary quality. Of course, it is true that the preference of recruiters is valuable when picking a school; knowing your school attracts a lot of companies and job offers is certainly an incentive for selecting that school.

But this all makes clear to me how different the distance MBA is from the nominal full-time school. Ironically, the self-selected ‘experts’ on ranking Business schools tend to think down on distance MBAs these days, but I am convinced that will change over time, if for no other reason than the fact that individuals, not groups, achieve greatness, and the only reason that no top CEO/CFO has come from a distance MBA, is that the distance MBA is too new to have shown its results in great measure; as more and more students earn their MBA through distance programs, more and more of them will succeed at higher levels, the present bias notwithstanding. It will take time, but it will happen.

But with regard to distance MBAs, I do not accept, at all, the notion that distance students are in any way inferior to full-time students. In fact, a case can be made to claim superior credentials for the distance student, since they must address the same material in most schools that the full-time student does, but in addition to a full time job and additional responsibilities which prevent these students from being able to pursue full-time study. In addition, the distance study student tends to be older than the full-time student, so the amount of real-world experience is greater. While full-time purists may prefer the high-gloss resume of a student who has never known floor level employment, such experience adds significant depth to the student of business practices, as he knows directly what works, what has failed, and why. A Ken Lay or Bernard Ebbers comes from a class which has only known silk ties and personal privilege, and while I do not mean to indict all elitist executives with that brush, I do maintain that direct work experience, face to face with customers and the floor staff of a company, is the best foundation for a successful executive. To be blunt, I expect greater results from MBA holders who held a real job for a decade or more before tackling the Masters program; they have a better sense for the bona fides of a company, or they should.

This brings me back to determining the best Online MBA schools. I have to admit that not all online schools are really as good as the traditional ‘brick and mortar’ schools, so as a standard placement I am only considering Business schools which offer an Online MBA, and which are accredited members of the AACSB. When I say they offer an Online MBA, I mean that a regular person with no more than 2 weeks of vacation could plan to meet the requirements of the course; there are a number of schools with unreasonable residency requirements, such as in-state distance courses, work-hours classes only, or excessive residence visits to a campus. So my list began with AACSB-member schools which offer a truly online MBA, either through proctored exams, capstone courses, or some combination which insures effective standards and genuine convenience of schedule and degree planning. After that, the only significant differences would be name recognition and tuition. I admit to an arbitrary screening in terms of name recognition, though I would claim that my entrants are valid. As to price, the information from was very useful, though I would remind the reader, again, that in-state tuition may make some schools a better choice than other schools; I ranked the schools on the basis of out-of-state tuition. Also, the reader should be aware that the state where you wish to work is very important; one reason I am inclined to Texas schools, is not only price but my intention to continue working in Texas, where the Texas schools will enjoy an advantage.

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