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?

has helped keep business school coffers full. More than 90,000 M.B.A.s were awarded in 1995, compared with 35,000 in 1974. A more recent phenomenon, executive education has grown to nearly $12 billion from $3 billion a decade ago, according to Stephen Franklin, associate dean of the executive education program at Emory University’s Roberto C. Goizueta Business School in Atlanta. “Companies realize that educating people has become an integral strategic weapon for competing and growing rapidly,” Franklin explains.

Certainly an executive M.B.A. carries the same weight as one earned in a traditional M.B.A. program, according to educators and business professionals. “The only difference between the executive M.B.A. and the M.B.A. is the student not the degree. The executive M.B.A. was created to get people with so many years experience from one level to the next,” says Erica Kantor, chairperson of the Executive MBA Council and assistant dean of the executive master’s program at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.

For Hill, who graduated in 1995, the degree was worth the $50,000 he invested in his education. While still in B-school, he was appointed managing director of the Los Angeles City Quality and Productivity Commission. Today, Hill has reached his goal: he is working with community groups in planning cost-effective management strategies. A light-aircraft pilot since his teens, Hill also now has time to work with young people interested m aviation.

Not everyone graduating from an executive M.B.A. program will be catapulted to the top of their organization within 10 months or even 10 years. Nonetheless, an M.B.A. provides a strong boost to an otherwise lackluster resume. And managers have an opportunity to step back from the day-to-day office routine to network and assess their careers amidst other professionals.

Yet, the financial and personal costs must also be weighed. While many corporations will pick up the tab, in some cases, you may have to foot the bill yourself. Today, with executive development budgets tightening, a free ride is rare. A growing number of companies pay only a portion of an executive’s post-graduate studies. Others even require that employees sign an agreement that they will stay with the company for so many years if the company pays for training.

Corporations want to see tangible returns for the time and money invested, regardless of an employee’s personal development. While most human resource departments have a list of favored M.B.A. programs, employees must diligently search out schools and programs that will reap benefits for both themselves and the company.

The growth in advanced business degrees stems from the belief that knowledge is just as valuable as capital. It’s not money that’s standing in the way of business, many experts feel, but a workforce ill-prepared to learn and adjust to new technologies.

In the 1980s, business schools took a lashing for their outdated curricula, but they’ve come a long way since then. “We’re experiencing some of the biggest reforms in our industry’s history,” says Charles W. Hickman, director of projects and

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