Going Back to School During Tough Times

by Mr. Cheap

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There’s a saying that when the economy turns bad, techies go to grad school which has definitely been true for me.  After the dot-com boom ended in flames, I headed back to school for my Masters, and by coincidence, soon after I started my PhD things turned south.  It worked out just about perfectly for my Masters, as 16 months later I graduated and companies had started hiring again.

I have friends graduating, and finding academic jobs is VERY tough right now.  It’s a better time to be starting a program than finishing one, and if I was at the end of my undergrad I’d  consider carrying on to a Masters if I had the opportunity (and have been encouraging my PhD friends to consider doing a post-doc).

MBA programs are graduate school for business types.  They’re typically advertised as worthwhile after you’ve spent a few years in the work force, then want to put your career advancement on steroids.  Enough people bought into this that they’ve flooded the market with MBAs.  If the program content is good (makes you a better businessman) or if it’s now the minimum qualification needed to advance (an MBA is the new BA for upwardly mobile executives) it may still would be worthwhile going through a program.

Some people, talking informally, will suggest that the real value of an MBA program comes not from the classwork, but from having a chance to spend extended periods of time with people who are serious about moving up the corporate ladder.  Classmates today will be your network tomorrow, referring jobs to each other (as you reminisce about spending an all-nighter preparing an accounting project or getting drunk together on a Friday afternoon after your last exam).

There are MBA programs at a number of Canadian universities (Queen’s, York, Toronto, Ryerson) and internationally, with varying levels of prestige (and tuition).  Each asserts that their program will more than pay for itself in increased salary over the course of a career.  I think this is probably true for people who know that they want to be managers and spend a couple decades playing corporate politics.  If someone is happy doing specialized work (like a techie), and isn’t interested in becoming management, they should probably do graduate work in their own area.  I’m suspicious that entrepreneurs would be better served using their tuition money as seed capital for a business venture, but John T. Reed often refers to concepts he learned getting his MBA at Harvard Business School that he feels made him a better real estate investor, so there might be value in non-corporate areas of your life as well.

One of my friends is involved with The Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto.  She’s working on a program which lets students get a taste of what an MBA would be like, by offering 8 three hour classes during evenings in the month of May.  Professors from the school lecture on their area of specialization and let a student know what it would be like if they took a program at the school.  It costs $3000, but half of this amount is credited towards tuition if the student then takes CERTAIN full programs at the school.  It’s like a less expensive “trial version” of an MBA.

While I’m totally biased, I definitely think this is a good way for someone living in Toronto to get a taste for what doing an MBA would be like.  If they’re on the fence, this could tell them (at a much lower cost) whether it’s worth making the time and money investment in an MBA or not.  Often companies are willing to foot the bill for education if you can sell them on how it would benefit the company over the long term.

Full detail about the program (and how to apply or get more information) is avaiable here.

The Financial Blogger is currently working on an MBA and has a number of posts on the subject.

For any readers who have done an MBA, how did you enjoy the program and did you think it was worth taking it?

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nicolas

I think their is a good case for people already working to go back to school to promote or change there careers, especially in this economic context.

On the specific topic of the MBA, I recommend reading Henri Mintzberg’s “Managers Not MBAs”. Not only does it pose a critical view on MBA programs offered today, it is also a most pleasant experience to read. Perhaps a future bock giveaway? I say this is a must read for anyone thinking of doing an MBA.

“Henry Mintzberg believes that both management and management education are deeply troubled, but that neither can be changed without changing the other.

Mintzberg asserts that conventional MBA classrooms overemphasize the science of management while ignoring its art and denigrating its craft, leaving a distorted impression of its practice. We need to get back to a more engaging style of management, to build stronger organizations, not bloated share prices. This calls for another approach to management education, whereby practicing mangers learn from their own experience. We need to build the art and the craft back into management education, and into management itself.

Mintzberg examines what is wrong with our current system. Conventional MBA programs are mostly for young people with little or no experience. These are the wrong people. Programs to train them emphasize analysis and technique. These are the wrong ways. They leave graduates with the false impression that they have been trained as managers, which has had a corrupting effect on the practice of management as well as on our organizations and societies. These are the wrong consequences.

Mintzberg describes a very different approach to management education, which encourages practicing mangers to learn from their own experience. No one can create a manager in a classroom. But existing managers can significantly improve their practice in a thoughtful classroom that makes use of that experience.”

http://www.henrymintzberg.com/mangnotmba.htm

2 Mr. Cheap

Nicolas: That does sound like a good read. I’ve never heard of it, so thanks for the mention and description!

3 Mark

I did my MBA back in ’97. To be honest, if it wouldn’t have been from receiving a scholarship at the time, there’s no way I would have forked out that type of money…

I would say that after having completed it, getting a job was both a boost and in some instance a pain in the a…

It was deffinitely easier to get a job but in the instance that I worked for someone who didn’t have one; they definitely thought of me as competition and not as collegue…

When I became a consultant, it was definitely an asset both to present myself as someone with the knowledge and in doing the work, someone with the confidence to get it done.

I think the only drawback today is that many employers (clients) make a big woopla about an MBA… I always try to keep myself grounded by remembering what my wife told me when I received it: “a donkey with a degree is still a donkey”…. An MBA doesn’t make you a better person, your actions do.

4 Mr. Cheap

Mark: Sounds like your wife is tough but fair ;-). Great to hear your experiences with an MBA over the last decade!

5 Al

I studied business as an undergraduate and completed it in ’96. I remember seeing the number of jobs that required an MBA and wondered why. An undergraduate buddy of mine was making a few extra bucks for himself tutoring the MBA students…..

6 Adam Conor

I am looking at taking my MBA. I work for the government but I’m a real estate investor and I think it could be very helpful for real estate investing or if I decide to join the corporate world.

7 Squawkfox

Another perspective comes from Penelope Trunk:

Don’t try to dodge the recession with grad school

:)

8 Jim L.

I recently graduated from college last May. A year earlier, maybe a handful of people were even considering go to grad school because the job market was hot for landscape architects. The bottom fell out of the market, and suddenly EVERYONE applied to grad school. It’s crazy the effect this has!

9 guinness416

Thanks for the link to the May “mini-mba” program. I just sent my boss a proposal as to why he should pay for me to do it :) I wouldn’t do any career-related program like an MBA on my own dime. Actually I probably wouldn’t do it anyway (I’m lazy like that).

I read Ask Metafilter a lot and have noticed a whole bunch of questions related to law school recently. Personally if laid off I’d rather retrain as a cooper, I heard newfoundland needs them.

10 Nicolas
11 Mr. Cheap

Fox & Nicolas: Thanks for the article links, both were very interesting!

Guinness: Yeah, if the PhD program doesn’t work out for me, I’m considering become the town crier or a tanner specializing in vellum…

12 Dana

Squawkbox, nice mention of Penelope’s blog. She’s definitely not a fan of grad school, of any variety :)

An interesting perspective from the NYTimes on business school and ethics.

http://dealbook.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/16/is-it-time-to-retrain-b-schools/?scp=1&sq=mba%20harvard&st=cse

13 Kevin

I honestly don’t agree with most graduate degrees (you do need them to become a professor-except it is so difficult to become a professor). I never saw the advantage that those 3 letters (MBA) make in a person’s career. What does an MBA teach that a business undergraduate degree doesn’t? Look at all the MBA’s that can’t find jobs, yet isn’t their education supposed to allow them to create opportunities. Check out http://blogs.wsj.com/laidoff/. To me doesn’t seem worth it.

14 Debbie Foote

I am going back to school to become a Physicain Assistant. I have been in Direct Sales and Real Estate for the past 25 years. I have a 4 year Medical Technologist Degree and a MA is buiness. I have not been able to find employment due to the time out of the Medical field or so they say. I am taking some pre-reqs now and hopefully will be admitted to PA school in September.
We have given out of resourses for paying our bills. We both have been out of a pay check for the last 12 months. We have borrowed from all of our friends and credit cards. We are at the end of our rope.
I heard that we could quailify for a loan modification if one of us was going back to school to better our selves and make more money.

We have been refused a loan modification by IndyMac/One West Bank beacause our loan is over 1 million dollars. This is the first month that we have not made our payment. We are now on my husbands early pension and it is only $6000 per month. Our current house payment is$7000 per month. Do you have any advice for us.
Thanks in advance.

15 Mr. Cheap

Debbie: Without knowing more about your situation, I’d recommend selling the house if you can’t afford it.

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