Join Date: Apr 2006
Location: New York, NY
Part-time programs come next in the pecking order, with many recruiters cynical about how much students attending school after a long day of work gain from the experience.
"The focus isn't there-there's too much going on in a student's life to drink in what is being taught," one survey respondent commented. "Many go part-time just to get the three letters-M.B.A.-behind their name." Some recruiters even said they would be more inclined to hire a top performer at an undergraduate business school than a part-time M.B.A. graduate.
Such recruiter opinions are producing some unhappy part-timers. When the Graduate Management Admission Council surveyed M.B.A. alumni recently, it found that only 17% of part-time graduates were extremely satisfied that their degree had increased their career options.
Part-timers sometimes feel like second-class citizens when it comes to recruiting. At NYU's Stern School, a Career Center for Working Professionals provides part-timers with career counseling, a database of job postings, networking events, mock-interview programs, and seminars on such topics as job loss and career switching. But Stern decided to bar part-timers from seeking interviews with campus recruiters who are in the market primarily for full-time students. That change riled some part-timers, who feel cheated. They contend that they had enrolled at Stern believing they could sign up for interviews with all on-campus recruiters.
Gary Fraser, associate dean for M.B.A. student affairs at Stern, has heard the students' complaints and understands their perspective. But he says the policy was changed because "hundreds of part-time students went through the interviewing process with poor placement results." He stresses that the change certainly "was not meant to punish the part-time students." NYU found, Mr. Fraser says, that part-timers weren't a good match for many recruiters who were looking for younger, less experienced full-time students.
To be sure, not all recruiters devalue part-time M.B.A. graduates. David Sanderson, the head of global recruiting at management-consulting firm Bain & Co., finds that part-timers bring more work experience, which often proves valuable. "There certainly are trade-offs," he says. "Frankly, we look at individuals and their accomplishments and capabilities, without distinguishing part-time from full-time from executive."
Panning the Internet
In the Journal survey, recruiters reserved their most savage comments for increasingly popular online M.B.A. degrees. "Come on," one respondent said. "Anyone in the world can do an online M.B.A. It's a commodity." Another said he had been asked to teach courses in online programs for which he felt unqualified, leading him to conclude that they are "scams."
While students certainly gain useful knowledge, there is much debate over the value of learning in front of a computer screen. Recruiters question the admissions standards at some programs that don't require students to take the Graduate Management Admission Test. They also complain that there's too little personal contact to develop critical communication and teamwork skills.
"The value of interacting in dynamic, difficult team situations with a peer set of highly motivated, intelligent, aspiring, successful individuals is lost in the online setting," says Brad Nichol, a survey respondent and consultant in New Jersey. To him, at least half the value of his M.B.A. came from the high-quality international network he built. "My network at London Business School was constructed on a continual basis in the classroom, in professor's offices, in the pub, on the sports field and on group trips," he says. "I don't believe this is possible to achieve to the same degree online."
Solitary learning at a computer is indeed at odds with the trend in M.B.A. education toward more, not less, contact with other students, professors and business executives. What's more, business schools are incorporating more practical content into the curriculum, such as consulting projects for companies that require time and personal interaction.
"As a full-time M.B.A. student, my analysis and strategy skills were tested many times in business-case competitions," says survey respondent Todd Wodzinski, a market development manager for Dow Chemical Co.'s automotive business. "I felt like I had gained a true gut feel for what worked and didn't work in the business world. I also gained valuable experience leading teams full of different personalities from different cultures."
He finds that colleagues and acquaintances who went the online route often have more trouble delivering "real-world results" when they can't depend on a textbook for the answer. "While they have mechanically gone through the motions of earning the M.B.A.," he says, "they lack the personal transformation that happens when immersed in a full-time, on-campus program. Online degree earners tend to stay in the mind-set of their previous job."
The head of an investment-management firm in Carmel, Calif., who responded to the survey doesn't believe online M.B.A. programs attract the right kind of students for his needs. "The investment field attracts naturally competitive individuals," he says, "and generally speaking, highly competitive individuals find a way to go to the top schools to prove themselves and avoid the online options."
A Successful Blend?
While recruiters consider fully online programs an incomplete education, they may find the increasingly popular practice of blending online and classroom instruction more appealing. Duke University's Fuqua School of Business is one of the most ardent proponents of blended learning. "Interacting in a face-to-face fashion is critical" for part of the program, says John Gallagher, associate dean for executive programs. "That immersion with the entire group allows the distance portion to function well."
Duke is sensitive about being linked with online M.B.A. programs with lower academic standards, and even tends to avoid using the word "online." Instead, it describes its programs as "Internet mediated" or "Internet enabled."
Duke's euphemistic approach to online learning is understandable. While Duke is certainly a respected institution, some marketers of online degrees clearly amount to little more than diploma mills. Spam emails promise people they'll earn more money if they "get a business degree FAST." There was even a bogus operation that awarded an M.B.A. to a cat.
Nevertheless, Mark Rice, dean of the Olin Graduate School of Business at Babson College, believes many schools and recruiters are unaware of the benefits of e-learning. For example, an online discussion wouldn't seem to measure up to a lively classroom debate. But Dr. Rice argues that discussions on the Internet can actually be more fruitful, "because loudmouths can't dominate the way they do in a classroom, where thoughtful people don't get a word in edgewise." Babson offers a "fast-track M.B.A.," which combines Internet and classroom teaching and allows students to finish the degree in 26 months, which is 10 months sooner than in the traditional part-time evening program.
"Online M.B.A.s may not have the same market power and cachet right now as other types of degrees," says Dr. Rice. "But I predict that 10 years from now, there will be top managers at companies who did an online program and who will be able to say it worked for them."