Gaining The Executive Edge

The push by graduate schools to draw in mid-career baby boomers has created rising enrollments in executive M.B.A. programs. Are they worth it?

After more than a decade as an electrical engineer, Phillip Hill was ready to expand his vocational horizons. While working as a project manager at Aerospace Corp., in Segundo, California, certainly fulfilled his professional needs and used his technical skills, he wanted to move into something more personal. “I’ve always had an orientation toward working with students, community groups and people in general,” recalls the 38-year-old Hill. “The only way for me to reach my dream was to go back to school.”

Though he had a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of California at Berkeley and a master’s in electrical engineering from Purdue, Hill believed that additional training was necessary for a career move. He felt that acquiring a combination of technical and business expertise–in marketing, finance, economics, global business and accounting, would give him a competitive advantage. In 1994, he enrolled in UCLA’s executive M.B.A. program.

Hill is just one of many baby boomer professionals who see going back to school as a way to advance their skills or change careers. He has chosen an executive M.B.A. program, a part-time but intensive version of the traditional M.B.A. An executive M.B.A. allows busy professionals who must juggle work and family with their studies the opportunity to earn a degree on the weekends or after work.
The main difference between a traditional and an executive M.B.A. is that the latter prepares professionals for senior-level positions. Students in executive programs–who are generally older (often in their late 30s and 40s)–get a broad view of management issues and situations where they can apply and share their own experiences. Most executive M.B.A. programs require five to 10 years of practical business experience. In addition, many schools look for applicants with undergraduate grade point averages of B or better; however, a significant amount of weight is based on the Graduate Management Admissions Test, personal experiences and the abilities that one brings to the classroom. Executive M.B.A. programs last from one to two and a half years, and cost anywhere from under $20,000 to more than $50,000.

On the other hand, a traditional M.B.A. offers more of a concentration in such areas as finance, accounting and marketing. The degree is designed for those with fewer years in corporate America and less exposure to specific management issues (M.B.A. students are typically in their mid-to-late 20s). The course load is also greater: an executive M.B.A. program may require 45 semester credits versus 60 for a standard program.

Beyond the spread of executive M.B.A. programs, the greatest boom has been in the area of executive education. Many corporations are willing to invest $1,500-$25,000 to upgrade their managers’ business and leadership skills. These increasingly popular training courses, which can range from a few weeks to several months, are designed to offer managers a quick way to gain the skills necessary to compete in today’s ever-changing workplace. Certificate-rather than degree-based, they are, once again, developed to fit the schedule of a busy professional.

Meanwhile, the burgeoning advanced management education trend

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