2012 was a milestone year for MBA degrees. For one thing, the course of study turned 112, having been born in 1900 when the Tuck School at Dartmouth College opened its doors to four ambitious students. But that's not the milestone. No, 2012 was the first year more students graduated with master's degrees in business than in education. Historically, post-graduate studies in education have drawn more students, to no small degree, owing to the fact that most states require new teachers to earn an MS within five years of earning their bachelor's degree. Yet 2012 saw 191,592 Masters degrees conferred in the field of business to education's 178,062. That's 25.4% of all postgraduate degrees compared to 23.6%.
An interesting question to ponder is why? Is it because the prevailing attitude is you can't go wrong with an MBA? On certain levels this appears to be true. Some benefits are tangible. Having an MBA has always boosted one's earning power, but the gap between what an MBA earns versus a BS is growing. In 2002, the average salary for an 35-42 year old employee with an MBA exceeded that of a similar employee with a bachelor's degree by 8%. Ten years later, that difference increased to 21%. Other benefits of having an MBA are intangible. With its focus on experiential learning and leadership an MBA program Santa Clara, where start-ups and entrepreneurial businesses can go bust overnight, can give a displaced employee the flexibility and business language to transition to a new venture where his leadership will be appreciated.
Yes, business today is the dominant institution, a virtual super-force, in not only economic areas, but social and cultural as well. And it is precisely because of this that one can go wrong with an MBA. Take the business models in place today. They have a short-term focus: predictable shareholder returns. When an executive with an MBA is thinking only of quarterly numbers, it is easy for him to lose sight of the welfare of his employees, his customers, and in some cases society at large. Cases in point are the reluctance of some car manufacturers to issue immediate warnings and recalls on defective cars, or oil and energy companies who harm the environment in their pursuit of profits.
The ideal MBA graduate would take what (s)he has learned in business school and find a way to use it in effective management practices that, while driving profits and fueling growth, would also work to eradicate, or at least chisel away at problems like unemployment, income inequality, and an eroding environment. Only then could one unequivocally say, you can't go wrong with an MBA!