Much has been said about the merits of an MBA in today's professional climate. We had the opportunity to speak with Bob Conroy, the J. Harvie Wilkinson, Jr., Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, and hear his thoughts on the current state of the MBA.
What trends do you see in the MBA landscape today that weren't present five years ago?
During the last five years we have seen an increase in the number of entering students who come with non-business experience. They are very bright and are quite able. The issue is that because of the lack of business experience compared to some of their peers they have difficulty putting things in context. This is a trend that I believe will continue and actually increase over time. It calls for us and other business schools to find ways to compensate for this so that everyone can get the most out of their experience.
What do you make of the questions currently being brought up in regards to the MBA's bubble bursting?
MBA education continues to be valuable to both employers and students. The challenge is to make sure that we continue to provide an education that results in employers finding the talent they need and for students to find the opportunities that they want. The escalating cost of MBA education poses the biggest threat to the value of an MBA. There is a limit to what employers are willing to pay for MBA talent and as such, rising costs threaten the value proposition to students. The bubble will burst if what employers are willing to pay is out of line with what students have to pay to get the degree.
Why types of shifts do you think will take place in the landscape over the course of the next few years?
Given the discussion above, it is clear to me that maintaining high quality education at a reasonable cost will be the major force shaping MBA education over the next few years. Clearly online education is the force that will have the biggest impact. At this time the exact nature of the impact is unclear.
What advice would you give an employee and prospective student about pursuing an MBA?
The best advice is that quality matters. If you are going to invest in an MBA education, make sure that it delivers a quality experience.
Along with possible salary benefits, what benefits do you think that an MBA provides for a student/professional?
It depends on the program. For Darden, the education provides a focus on the whole enterprise. It is not just about acquiring a set of skills. It is also about developing the set of competencies that allow an individual to be effective across a wide spectrum of experiences.
What is one misconception about MBAs that you would like to dispel?
MBA's are only focused on money. I have the delightful experience of working with MBA students who are truly committed to making a difference in society for the better. It is amazing how much time and effort a large number of students devote to community activities during their two years in the MBA program. These people care about their community.