Saturday, March 19, 2011

The MBA, revisited 2011

I checked the details on my Sitemeter recently, and I see that I have been getting a bit more interest again in my comparison of online MBA programs. So, that means I should present my list of the Top Online MBA Programs a bit earlier this year. In 2009 and 2010, I presented the results in June but that appears to be later than most people considering schools find useful, so I will try to get the results in by April. I’m not re-doing the methodology this time, so the structure should stay consistent. For anyone interested in past results, here are the rankings from prior years:

2010 Results

2009 Results

and 2006 Results

I graduated from UHV in 2009, so there is a gap between 2006 and 2009 for that reason.

For anyone new to the site, I rank Online MBA programs because there are only a few places where you can find such rankings, and those rankings are often biased because the sites are paid to sponsor certain for-profit schools. Generally, if a school advertises on a website you should consider how objective – or not – the website’s ranking criteria should be counted. Having said that, I admit I have a bias, but that’s why I lay out my methodology and explain its weighting. You can back out my results and reweight to suit yourself. After all, it’s not supposed to be me telling you where to go, it should be about you getting information you need to make the best decision.

Which reminds me. I’ve been reading a lot about MBAs, and frankly there’s a lot of bad information out there about the degree, what it can do for you and why someone should consider the MBA. First off, yes, getting an MBA from a good school will improve your prospects for a good salary and promotion – IF you do good work and prove yourself to your employer. Because no matter what degree you have, what school you go to or what promises you make, in the end it’s a value question.

Stop for a minute and turn things around. Think about when you buy a car. Sure, you want a good-looking car with options and comforts, but you still have to consider first what you need the car to do, and what you can afford. People buy and lease low-end vehicles because they have to, after all. Well, when a business decides to hire for a position, they also have to start by considering what they need, and what they can afford. You also have an advantage, because you only apply for jobs that describe work you’d like to do, and a salary you’d accept. So you know, at least generally, what kind of job you’re chasing even before the potential employer knows anything about how well you’d do if they hire you.

A lot of folks figure they’re worth more than they are paid. This drives resentment, but it’s the wrong attitude. I’ve hired people who did not work out, and for the employer this is very irritating. For one thing, you have to start all over with another hire, and hope that this one will work out. Also, if you’re not careful you could end up with someone who meets your minimum requirements, but won’t ever go an inch beyond what they have to do. That’s bad enough for a regular employee, but if you hold an MBA, you are promising your employer that you are a master at your profession; that’s kind of why the first word in MBA is ‘Master’. You get the bigger salary and more important position, because as an MBA holder you are brought on board to create or add value to the company, which is to make it more profitable, stable, or create growth. In even more blunt terms, don’t plan on making a lot of money unless you can guarantee you will bring in a lot more than that to your company. So, going back to when you apply for a position, having the MBA may get the interview, but your ability to assure the company that you represent more money for them will determine whether you make the second round of interviews and are seriously considered for an important role. The MBA is a tool, and you must never forget that it is achieved primarily to make you more effective, not just get you a bigger paycheck.

I have also noticed a lot of discussion about what school to go to, and what concentration you should choose. That really comes down to three types of schools, and three types of focus. There are certain schools that are impressive, either in general or for the concentration chosen, there are generally acceptable schools … and frankly, there are schools which will probably hurt you in comparison with your competition. I want to be careful here, because I do not mean that schools like the University of Phoenix or DeVry are not good, solid institutions of education, but to be very blunt they are commonly seen as inferior to established brick & mortar schools. This does not mean you should not consider for-profit schools for an MBA, but you should be careful to consider what your career needs to attract the employer of your choice. If you are already working at a good company and the MBA is to make you eligible for a key promotion, then the choice of school is much less significant, but if you don’t have an established performance record to brag about, or you are shooting for a big jump in position, you need to consider how your school name will be seen by the person deciding whether to give you a shot. As to concentration, a lot of candidates decide to pursue a general business MBA, rather than focus on one concentration, while people looking to excel in a particular part of a company often decide they need to key in on their target area. For example, in my case I want to work in Finance and Accounting, so my concentration was in Accounting. I did that because of the coursework I wanted to use to sharpen my strengths in accounting work, and to improve my resume in applying for positions in that department. It worked for me, as I was soon hired to be a credit manager, in charge of AR work and revenue recognition. I could have had more opportunities, perhaps, with a general business MBA, but less chance at the specific position I wanted. Also, the accounting concentration matches my experience and skill set of the past decade and more. Also, at my age a sudden change would not be desirable.

I mention age because that is another important factor in choosing your school and focus. By the time I decided to go back to school, I had more than two decades of work experience. So I not only did not need some chrome-plated Big Name University, even if I went to a Harvard or a Wharton Business School, it would not have much impact on my opportunity. If you’re in your low twenties and just got your bachelor’s the school you choose for your MBA is a huge factor in getting attention and an interview. Similarly, if you’re just starting out a general business degree might make a lot more sense than specializing in one area.

That’s the thing. You should prepare yourself in terms of goals and commitment before you pursue an MBA, and you should know what factors will make the MBA most valuable to you before you choose your school and concentration. That’s what these rankings are meant to do.

(Next: Defining the criteria, and the weighting)