A friend of mine, who is studying for his Master’s in Business Administration, once joked that, from what he could see in his classes, MBA must actually stand for “Mainly Baboons and Apes.”
Education has become commoditized, whether we want to admit it or not. Becoming educated is no longer something you can do if you have the intellect and motivation; instead, it is something you must do to even get a job. Slowly but surely, getting a BA in Business is becoming just the first step in landing employment. Employers want to see Master’s Degrees, and with the huge influx in students enrolling in Master’s programs, there came a shift in the quality of that education. A New York Times article, published March 2009, explored if the methods and direction of business schools needed to be re-evaluated. It is no wonder, especially after two more years of economic recession, that people have begun to wonder if, in reality, the business world is full of what my friend saw in his classes; a bunch of monkeys throwing around buzz words.
Synergy? Upward thinking? Empowerment? Web 2.0? More often than not, it feels like the people giving presentations with those words flashing on their PowerPoint screens have as much idea about what they are saying as those who were dredged up to listen to them. But there is a reason why they talk like that, and it isn’t simply because they are really apes in suits.
A bad MBA, more often than not, points to a bad MBA program. An increase in demand meant a lot of schools began to turn away prospective students, and there was no lack of universities willing to offer them a position instead. In an effort to save money, these colleges will typically hire less-than-talented, part-time, professors to work teach courses for the MBA program. The amount of money universities typically pay part-time instructors is not too overwhelming, so it is no wonder that they decide to just pad courses with self-help books and take-home exams. It may make the student happy, but results in a poorly trained graduate.
That isn’t to say that all MBA programs are bad. A degree from a prestigious school like Harvard, Stanford, or even a good public university can still carry a lot of weight and open doors. But it seems like every company wants an MBA without having to pay for their extra education. So, if a student ends up shuffling through a less than stellar program, their sellability will drop, resulting in a position in either a smaller company, or in middle management for a larger one. From there, they could possibly wreak havoc, ruin efficiency, and just make life miserable for everyone they supervise.
There are, however, some positive developments that seem to be coming out of the MBA craze. Good schools are opening up all across the world, and some of the most prestigious programs are trying to reach out to new pockets of talent. More and more satellite campuses are opening in the hopes of attracting good students who would like to study within their own country, instead of moving out to a foreign school. The Economist reported that the amount of Asian students applying to study in America, for example, dropped from 85% of GMAT takers in 2001 to 67% in 2009. These schools have the capital to invest in good professors as well; professors who do more than throw a Spencer Johnson book at their students and call it a day.
Ability should be more important than education. Education can aid and enhance a student’s abilities, but if they have no head for business to begin with, all the schooling in the world isn’t going to help them. Right now, it seems that the focus of many businesses is on short-term gains. If the recession has taught us anything, it is that thinking long-term is probably a better strategy. I wouldn’t be surprised if that lesson sticks for a little while and companies begin to hire based on talent, and not branding.
Hopefully, then, the business world will no longer be a planet of the apes.