As more working professionals pursue an MBA to advance their careers, local colleges and universities are bolstering their curricula and ties to the corporate world.
Despite a tight job market, more restrictive employer tuition reimbursement and busy personal schedules, a Master of Business Administration degree is still a sought-after credential.
"In many cases, the reality is to maintain a current position or to advance, a graduate degree is necessary. It also can increase job security," says Douglas Ross, MBA program chair at Franklin University.
"A graduate degree has become the standard in many organizations for advancement. For what used to require a bachelor's degree, employers can now require an MBA," says Keirsten Moore, assistant dean of Capital University's School Of Management and Leadership.
Moore increasingly sees MBA students who are junior in their careers. "They're advancing their education to enhance their job opportunities. Depending on their position, some feel underemployed because of the economy. An MBA can differentiate them in professional advancement," she says.
Capital MBA student Niti Raina will graduate this spring. "My master's will be in marketing, because it complements my human resources experience," says Raina, a senior HR recruiter with JPMorgan Chase & Co. "I pursued my MBA as a personal accomplishment and to broaden my professional horizons. My MBA isn't just a way to get into management. I wanted to better understand the overall aspects of business."
Raina took advantage of the program's evening class schedule. "I was never going to quit my job," she says.
A variety of MBA options are available to Central Ohio working professionals, including full-time, part-time, online and classroom-based programs.
Programs of Study
The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business offers a full-time two-year MBA, a working professional MBA with classes in the evenings and an executive professional MBA that can be completed in 18 months. Combined, nearly 600 students are pursuing OSU MBAs.
The working professional program is growing the fastest. "Given the economic trends, it's not surprising. They can keep their jobs and work toward their MBA," says Graduate Student Recruitment Director Alida Smith.
Some assume that displaced workers are flocking back to school for their MBA, but Smith says the numbers don't bear that out: "I wouldn't say we've seen an increase in unemployed graduate students."
Almost 200 professionals are enrolled in Capital's two-year program. "Historically we didn't offer specializations, but students were bundling their electives. In the past five years, we added finance, marketing, leadership and entrepreneurship because of demand," Moore says.
The MBA is one of nine graduate programs offered at Franklin. "The economy hasn't affected our student base," Ross says. Franklin's 605 students rank it first in Central Ohio MBA enrollment.
"We teach innovative leadership based on strategic thinking. Today's business leaders must analyze opportunities and challenges from different perspectives. Those skills accompany job advancement, but usually need developed," Ross says.
Franklin's international MBA is experiencing the most growth. "It's our American MBA that we take to partner institutions overseas. International students find it difficult to afford or get a visa to come here and study, so we go there by partnering with foreign institutions," Ross says.
More than 100 international students in Poland, Macedonia, Oman and Slovakia participate in six weeks of online study and two weeks of classroom instruction with Franklin faculty who travel abroad. "We also bring their professors here on visiting professorships," Ross says.
The Columbus campus benefits from the international program. "It broadens the global perspective of our domestic students," says Sherry Mercurio, Franklin's public relations director.
DeVry University's Keller Graduate School of Management offers numerous MBA concentrations. "Keller students want a practical, hands-on education with a broad base of business knowledge. Also, having a specialized skill in finance or marketing is a big help in becoming an asset to your organization," says Scarlett Howery, Columbus metro president.
Working adults are the target MBA audience.
"Ninety-four percent of Keller students are 25 years or older, and 33 percent are over 40. All of them are managing jobs, families and more. Our classes let them successfully fit education into their lives," Howery says. Keller students can complete their MBA in as little as 18 months.
Franklin students share the same need. "They're not traditional students, so our online and classroom courses reflect the flexibility our students want," Mercurio says.
Fisher College doesn't offer online MBA courses. "We value the strength of the classroom experience and the perspective students bring to the conversation. They learn from each other and the faculty," Smith says. "We believe that experience cannot be replicated online."
Capital also uses the face-to-face approach. "We see leadership competencies are benefitted by classroom interaction," Moore says.
Each institution touts its business connections.
"We're continually looking at our curriculum, as well as reviewing how it's delivered, to achieve greater relevancy," Smith says.
"Our advisory board members work in their industries. We regularly ask what they're looking for in employees and integrate that input into our curriculum," says Christine Allen, Franklin's MBA program coordinator.
Through its campuses nationwide, Keller's industry advisory boards provide curriculum input. "In Columbus, we meet with local employers for their ideas and about job placement," Howery says. The local campus coordinates with DeVry's Illinois corporate office when incorporating changes.
"Capital students like our mix of Ph.D. and executive faculty, because it gives them a good mix of theory and practical learning that's rigorous and relevant," says Moore.
Capital students also help develop real-world case studies. "Companies come to class and present a challenge they're facing. Our students help them develop solutions as part of their classwork," Moore says.
Raina's already applying what she's learned on the job. "My manager is very supportive. We discuss the projects that I might work on after I graduate, and she asks me to share what I've learned that's applicable to our department," she says.
An MBA is a costly investment by any measure. Franklin charges $565 per credit hour. Capital charges $555. OSU's Fisher College costs $28,355 per year. DeVry's Keller Graduate School is $18,384 annually.
Tuition reimbursement is available from some employers, but the recession forced changes. "I'm guessing that half of our students have some level of employer assistance, but they're more restrictive. We're seeing a decline in the amounts available and the number of employers offering it," Moore says.
"We still have working professionals who receive some sort of tuition reimbursement from their employer, even in this economy," Smith says.
While most MBA students have a job, placement assistance is available for those who need it. Keller students rely on their advisor from enrollment through graduation. "We call on career development professionals, online resources and our alumni, too," Howery says.
"Franklin has people and events such as career fairs in place to assist with networking, résumé writing and interviewing," Mercurio says. "Employers are also coming to Franklin saying they want to talk to our students, so we're seeing growth in the employers we're working with."
"At Fisher College, we help students identify ways to leverage their MBA to move up or move on to another organization," Smith says.
"Most of our students are trying to advance in their current careers, so we don't use an aggressive placement strategy. One of the biggest benefits of Capital's MBA program is the networking that happens naturally," Moore says.
Raina says that's a benefit she's experienced firsthand: "I've made an invaluable network of contacts and friends."
Lisa Hooker is a freelance writer.