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The MBA Degree: Longevity, Growth, and Innovation

April 2013

By Sari Wakefield, Manager, Digital Communications, AACSB International

There are not many things that have lasted for more than 100 years. In fact, we are not sure we can name anything at the moment ... except for MBA programs. Since the early 1900's, an MBA has meant intelligence, business know-how, and expertise. It has often been seen as a "launching pad" for professionals, providing communications, leadership, and analytical skill development, according to Paul Danos, dean of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College—home of the world's oldest MBA program (112-years-old to be exact). Perhaps, the MBA's longevity has been fueled by its graduates, which have what Danos describes as a "can-do spirit," and are increasingly concerned with social impact and ethics.

During the 2011–2012 academic year, more than 230,000 students were enrolled in MBA programs at AACSB-accredited schools worldwide, an 11% increase from the prior five years. However, this is a very small representation of MBA enrollment figures, since only 4% of the world's business schools have achieved AACSB Accreditation. The interesting aspect is the continued, steady growth of the MBA despite turbulent global markets and criticisms surrounding the value of the degree. Danos attributes the continued MBA growth to a massive, worldwide expansion of private enterprise during the last 20 years, particularly in regions such as Asia. As organizations have become more sophisticated, they have demanded more internationally and universally trained professions, all of which has helped to fuel the demand for quality MBA graduates and continued executive MBA education.

There are a variety of MBA "mega trends" that Danos has seen throughout his 18 years as dean of the Tuck School of Business. One of the most significant trends in the industry has been globalization. The globalization of MBA programs has led to vast diversity in the ethnicity and gender of students and faculty, as well as cross collaborations with institutions around the world. All of which have added significant value to MBA programs and business education in general. MBA programs today are also much richer, in that they include courses covering broader topics, such as leadership, ethics, and concentrated specializations. Even within classic MBA courses, the academic experience has become increasingly dynamic, as there has been a real blending of technology-based and face-to-face learning. These are the factors that are making today's MBA more than just a simple transfer of knowledge. Today, an MBA from a quality institution is truly a well-rounded learning experience.


eNEWSLINE Live: Education in the New Age: Is the MBA at Risk?
View the detailed discussion with Paul Danos, dean of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College exploring the past and future expectations for the MBA.




Despite the continued, steady growth and development of MBA programs, many questions remain related to the direction of curricula and delivery methods. There are also questions surrounding the long-term value of the degree program for graduates. For example, in the recent Wall Street Journal article, "A Smart Investor Would Skip the MBA," the author explores how an investment in oneself would yield a better return than paying tuition at some of the most expensive U.S. business schools.1 Perhaps this is true in some cases, where tuition is higher than the market average. However, many studies have found that the life-long earning potential of MBA graduates is significant. The rate of return is often much higher than the initial investment in tuition. As Danos puts it, the MBA is "unlike any program I know, the people that come change their attitudes, change their aspirations, and achieve a lot in life."

The beauty of the MBA is that it has continuously evolved to meet market needs throughout the past 100 years. Today, the MBA provides value to more than just business professionals. Its truly flexible curriculum can be applied to a variety of disciplines, from medicine to law. For example, the MD/MBA and JD/MBA degree programs are allowing doctors and lawyers to see their practices as strategic business entities. The MBA's flexibility to adapt across disciplines really provides professionals with an advantage. That is, professionals from all aspects of society can use the business knowledge gained from an MBA to think innovatively, globally, and strategically about any discipline they pursue.

The Evolution of the MBA [INFOGRAPHIC]
Courtesy of the Inside the MBA@UNC Blog

Evolution of the MBA via MBA@UNC
Via MBA@UNC: Online MBA Program

As for the next 20 years, it is expected that globalization will continue to play an important role in the evolution of MBA programs. As far as Danos can see, there will be a "massive buildup in the next 50 years in places like China and India, and most of Asia, as well as Latin America." Many of these highly populated, developing regions "are not developed in terms of the numbers of actual schools." As he explained, it will take time to bring these schools to a level that is comparable with programs and schools in well-developed areas such as North America and Europe. Globalization in terms of curricula development will also continue to be a driving factor, as graduates are increasingly being hired by businesses with global strategies for growth. Therefore, expanding upon global concepts, cross-program collaborations, and diverse student populations will be important. In addition to globalization, entrepreneurship and innovation are expected to play more dominant roles in curricula development. As Danos discussed, nearly 50% of professionals at sometime in their career will be running their own business. Mastering innovation and entrepreneurship will be important for both sole proprietors and business professionals moving forward.

Also in the future, emphasizing on faculty and research will continue to be important. For example, Danos explained the importance of exposing students to the way faculty think about knowledge, due to how differently they look at things. The training that faculty receive, as well as their general pursuit of new knowledge are "really important parts of being a leader in business." Faculty can help businesses, through students, become "exposed to a wide variety of best practices, and what is behind those best practices." This is why Danos and many others in the management education industry do not believe schools should stray too far from their scholarly teaching models.


1. Stephens, D. (2013, March 7). A Smart Investor Would Skip the MBA. The Wall Street Journal