Is the MBA Still Worth the Cost?

Once it was philosophy that reigned. Architecture, science, law, and medicine at some time also each had their own glorious time. Business education did not make its way into the professional dictionary until several decades after the industrial revolution. Before then, business skills were learned through master-apprentice relationships.

It needed neither specialized scientific qualifications nor a class of men with managerial sophistication other than ordinary literacy, practical experience, and personal initiative. But as industries became more and more competitive and complex, business management professionalization became inevitable.

This transition was not only a slow one. It also had to contend with trials and errors. All these went on without much challenge to the status quo until the arrival of globalization changed the whole thing – not just the pace but also the manner in which competition was conducted within business world, bringing professional warriors into the business world.

Believing that MBA graduates have been better equipped with understanding the battlefields, industry has not hesitated to fully embrace MBA graduates as the champions in whose hands the battle should be left. In doing so, however, it strongly believed that these corporate warriors should cost lots of money. And so, industry did not hesitate to pay the bill, and in most cases, overpaid.

Soon, not only that the bill was bloated, with the demand for MBA graduates soon outnumbering supply itself, more and more business schools rushed in to take advantage of this shortage while it lasted. With this came not only proliferation in numbers of graduate business schools, but also the lowering of the standard of business education. Soon the truth began to emerge, which is an overproduction and poorly educated MBA graduates.

But how did most business school come to accept lower standards as a way to be in the market? How was it that well established universities did not resist the temptation to join the bandwagon? Could it be because it all started without a well-defined baseline? Could it be because business schools taught what has little to do with the changing business world?

Of course, over time the trend was so bastardized to the level of making MBA programs lose sight of asking the basic questions: Whether the structures and processes – including the courses, class, grades, examinations, classroom, credit hours, and lecturers – were truly meeting the needs of the customers. Perhaps, MBA programs, while enhancing quantitative and critical thinking about the old industrial economy, failed to serve the practical needs of globalization-transformed industry.

Little wonder MBA’s problems are today more numerous to count. Let the student’s individual thought-process. Replaced with a flawed and disconnected group-think system, merely because of the notion that business success could only come through collaborative efforts, the student comes out without being fully scrutinized with the required readiness to face today’s real world of business.

Also take the professor’s evaluation methods. Not based on their teaching or on the performance of the student, but on publications and ability to attract money from industry, it wouldn’t have been much worse. In other words, teaching has become more peripheral with the professor facing uphill tasks of meeting relevant academic politics than thinking about what truly goes on in the real world of business.
To this end, it is obvious that most business schools, including the once respected elite ones, have been lost in their assumption of teaching and learning as simply the same thing. Thus, these programs are filled with all sorts of courses for the student, even when it is clear that what the professor teaches is not necessarily what the student is and should be learning. With what the student is interested in learning increasingly far from what the professor is interested in teaching, setting the student and the professor further apart could be more.

In such hypercompetition, industry expected to find business schools less analytical and more practically oriented. They expected MBAs to have more interpersonal communications skills, more resistance to stress, a better more perception of threshold cues, and a greater ability to understand technological leadership. In fact, while industries looked for formidable leaders of empires as well as conquerors of a chaotic battlefield, all they found were fewer issue-based curricula and fewer future-oriented MBA programs.

This brings us today to query whether MBA should be continued, should be overhauled, or should be completely discarded. This of course has become more and more obvious since one who has gone through this MBA thing to agree that in its drive to defend everything defensible it has lost defending anything at all than mere business jargon used to confuse those who have never passed through it.
As globalization drives industry deeper and deeper into the battlefield, students are frustrated that their expectations are not being met as businesses look for people who think differently, behave differently, and make quicker and better judgment in today’s risky business world.

But making the situation worse – to say the least – is the absence of ready-made job waiting for these MBA graduates, which used not to be the case few years ago. The truth, thus, has begun to set in. For one thing, graduating MBAs now recognize how mismatched their education and training have become that they lack even the preparation not just for growing start-up businesses, but more embarrassingly, for starting a small entrepreneurial business.

So to survive in today’s environment, business schools must undergo the needed transformations. First they must question the current relevance of their programs; that is, what values do MBA students carry along with them to the marketplace? Second, they should have to question the relevance of the present strict pedagogical sequence that is progressively ruled by examinations. Shouldn’t the present dominant role of examination be reduced, if not entirely eliminated? Why should the professor, the student, and the practitioner not think of themselves as permanent learners while taking into account their differing competencies?

What about the quest of focusing learning on the student’s way of organizing knowledge and defining problems contextually? What about understanding that getting the student think about issues and situations in novel ways could help enhance student’s capacity to think and act creatively? Shouldn’t the importance of leadership training be reinforced? One thing is clear, and let us put it this way: industry may decide to bypass business schools by setting up the type of business education that it actually needs. These are some of the questions today’s MBAs would have to pose if they still want to be around tomorrow.

Written by
Odilim Enwegbara
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