Anyone thinking about taking an MBA today faces a bewildering choice: Part-time or full-time? One-year or two-year? General or specialised? It is testament to the vibrancy of the MBA market that it offers such a range of experiences. But do all these variants live up to the same promise? Do the letters MBA mean anything in particular in terms of the quality of a programme?
My view, based on more than 30 years in the business school sector, is that the actual content of many classes has converged. So, although each region will emphasise some local business content, the topics taught and materials used are broadly similar across continents and schools.
At the same time I believe there are enormous differences in the overallquality of MBA programmes – andthose differences are growing. Thereal divergence comes in the natureof the campus life, the quality ofteaching, the percentage of full-time staff, the research emphasis of the faculty, the availability of campus resources and the quality and variety of student backgrounds.
Vast differences also exist when it comes to the personal experience in terms of the size of classes, the ratio of students to staff, the level of team work and personal access to faculty experts.
In short, as the content of classes becomes more similar, the quality of the learning experience becomes the important differentiator.
The spectrum of programmes under the MBA label is amazing and includes distance-learning, mixed-distance and face-to-face programmes; part-time programmes; and full-time programmes that are either residential or nonresidential.
The structure of a programme often determines how much personal interaction will take place, which raises an important issue. If the MBA experience is about peer learning as well as teaching, which most experts agree it is, then the quality of students is critical. Here, too, there are big differences between programmes.
There is a great variety in the amount of preprogramme business experience required of applicants. This is important in that so much learning is transferred from student to student. Some MBAs are offered by for-profit entities and some are purely not for profit. There are MBA providers with university affiliations and those without; there are those with corporate affiliations and those without. There are some programmes that are one year or less in duration. Some part-time MBAs take several years to complete.
With all this variety comes a great range of completion rates from virtually 100 per cent in the university-based, full-time programmes to under 50 per cent in some part-time programmes.
At Tuck, we offer the classic, full-time two-year programme. I believe it is the best for well-qualified candidates with good work experience who can and want to make a break with the past and gain a whole new array of business leadership opportunities.
That does not mean that the Tuck model is right for everyone. Not all great potential business leaders have the luxury of going to a full-time programme or are able to relocate. But for those who can, the full-time MBA is a life-changing experience.
Many MBA students want to maximise their options for leadership positions in the world’s best businesses. The top full-time programmes include diverse and experienced students and a faculty of thought leaders, and they certainly have outstanding track records in the career options area.
Many of these programmes have professional staff to help students in their career decisions. Sadly, this is not the case for all schools that issue an MBA degree.
So despite some convergence in the materials and topics covered in the formal classroom parts of the world’s MBA programmes, there is a vast divergence in the learning environments and specific characteristics of what is on offer.
There is also a tremendous divergence in the oversight of programmes; most are not accredited by a major organisation, and government oversight is sporadic. Of the thousands of MBA programmes only 50 or so are regularly ranked or even written about in the press.
The letters MBA are attached to many diverse programmes. Some provide superb learning experiences that will change one’s life for the better, but those letters are not a guarantee of success. Each student must be responsible for their own due diligence.
You owe it to yourself and your career to investigate MBA providers thoroughly and choose the programme that gives the best value and best matches your educational needs.