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Executive MBA Programs on the Rise

Interest in executive MBA programs is rising as experienced managers seek to combine work and study to confront challenges posed by an increasingly competitive global economy. Targeted at up-and-coming executives, executive MBA programs offer flexible formats which allow students to work while attending evening or weekend classes.

Perhaps because of this flexibility, EMBA programs have become a popular subset of what is already the most popular master's degree in America. A 2010 survey of business school applicants by the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the GMAT, found that 59 percent of EMBA programs experienced an increase in the size of their applicant pool, compared with only 41 percent of full-time MBA programs. In addition, more business schools are offering executive MBA programs online to enable talented students around the globe to attend international programs, while working in their home countries.

"We're pleased that interest and applications are up for EMBA programs, especially during these tough times," says Michael Desiderio, executive director of the executive MBA Council. "The caliber of EMBA students continues to be high as well."

During the summer of 2010, the executive MBA Council--an organization of business schools and corporations sharing research and best practices in this field--surveyed 308 executive MBA programs to assess the health of these business school programs.

The executive MBA Council findings

The 2010 executive MBA survey findings showed that on average executive MBA program inquiries rose from 519 in 2009 to 533 in 2010, while applications per program increased from 92 to 93. The survey showed that the caliber of executive MBA students remains high as well as the following:

  1. Years of work experience increased from 12 to 13 between 2006 and 2010. The typical student possessed more than eight years of management experience.
  2. The percentage of schools that required interviews went up from 86 percent in 2006 to 93 percent in 2010, while GPA held steady at 3.1.

The percentage of students whose tuition is paid by employers or others, meanwhile, has decreased from 35 percent in 2006 to 30 percent in 2010. Another third of the students receive partial funding, while the rest pay for the programs in full.

More than a quarter of executive MBA program participants are women, while the average age of participants has increased from 36 to 37 years old. Program cost jumped almost 5 percent between 2009 and 2010, with average executive MBA program tuition standing at $65,655 for some 20 months of schooling.

Standard class sizes have risen from 42 in 2006 to 45 in 2010. The percentage of programs requiring an international trip as part of their education continues to rise, from 57 percent in 2006 to 64 percent in 2010. According to the executive MBA Council, the most popular destinations are rapidly emerging economies China, Brazil and India.

Finally, the executive MBA Council reports that the percentage of programs focused on a particular industry or profession increased from more than 6 percent in 2006 to more than 9 percent in 2010. Most specialized executive MBA programs focus either on global or health care management.

What do top executive MBA programs offer?

The Financial Times and Bloomberg Businessweek rank the executive MBA of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University first. Students praise the global reach of the program, which has in place campuses in Chicago and Miami and joint executive MBA programs with top business schools around the world, including:

  • The Leon Recanati Graduate School of Business Administration at Tel Aviv University in Israel
  • The WHU-Otto Beisheim School of Management in Germany
  • HKUST Business School in China
  • The Schulich School of Business at York University in Canada

Graduate Jimmy Yaokasin, an executive in the Philippines, says the Kellogg-HKUST executive MBA opened a new world for him. "The professors were great, the learning was enriching, the management techniques were cutting-edge and most of all, the classmate network was priceless," he says. "I realize that we may see things and do things differently in various parts of the world but what is common among us is the motivation to make a tangible difference in the lives of the company, community and country we are in."

The Wall Street Journal and US News & World Report, meanwhile, rank the executive MBA program at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania first. Students praise a challenging curriculum and faculty, while companies are impressed by the quality of its graduates. The Wharton executive MBA is offered in Philadelphia and San Francisco.

Graduate Benjamin Titera, a technology industry executive, says the Wharton executive MBA challenges beliefs. "This is a formative experience," he explains. "It's one that challenges barriers that you've established in yourself by limiting yourself ... It lets you know that 'I can go beyond where I've been.'"