E.M.B.A.s offer a degree -- and work securityBy Laura Egodigwe
Every month, Shawn Young travels more than 2,000 miles in pursuit of an executive M.B.A. The 33-year-old banker makes biweekly trips from Charlotte, North Carolina, where he is a vice president at Wachovia Corp., to New York for Friday and Saturday classes in Columbia University's 20-month executive M.B.A. program. Young will have logged 43,000 miles by the end of his studies, but he believes it will have been worth the effort. Young explains: "I did not … want to be ruled out for a position because I did not have an M.B.A."
Traditional M.B.A. programs require two years of full-time study. The executive M.B.A., or E.M.B.A., is typically earned part time over 18 months, allowing professionals to remain employed. Critics have viewed E.M.B.A.s as limiting, arguing that they only benefit executives' current position or train them for future opportunities at their present company, while traditional M.B.A. programs have a broader scope. But the executive M.B.A. landscape is changing.
The E.M.B.A. advantage. "There's an increased recognition of the executive M.B.A. as being on par [with traditional M.B.A.s] and, in some ways, being uniquely advantageous as a model for getting your M.B.A.," says Michael Fenlon, associate dean for executive M.B.A. programs at Columbia University's business school.
Young, who will graduate in September, considered a traditional program and was accepted but decided against it after some research. "The economy is not all that good, and there has been a large pruning of positions in financial services," he says. Recently promoted, he didn't want to lose nearly two years of his career to school. That's true of many E.M.B.A. students, whose average age is 37 and who typically have 15 years invested in their careers. Ten of those years are in management, says Maury Kalnitz, executive director of the Executive M.B.A. Council, a nonprofit association based in Orange, California.
But more importantly, E.M.B.A. programs allow students real-time application of the tools they have gained in the classroom, Fenlon points out.
Geographic flexibility. Because E.M.B.A. classes are usually scheduled on alternating weekends, students can consider a wider range of schools. Young considered a number of schools in North Carolina but realized that he'd have to drive at least two hours to get to the programs. Factoring in the cost of gas and wear and tear on his car, he decided that a two-hour flight to Columbia made more sense. "The benefit is that when I'm on the plane I can read," Young says. "When I'm driving I have to pay attention."
The programs are also broadening student options: The University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business recently launched Wharton West. Columbia Business School teamed up with the University of California at Berkeley's Haas School of Business for a West Coast program. In addition, many schools offer some combination of in-class instruction with Web classes, making location less important. The University of Maryland University College Graduate School offers an online M.B.A.
Company support is key. Most companies provide either tuition assistance or time off. Young's manager supported the latter. Young flies from Charlotte to New York every other Thursday after work.
It's important to understand the company's policy for educational pursuits. Some firms have a centralized process, while at others it's between the employee and his or her boss. "In either instance," Fenlon notes, "you'll need to help them understand what's in it for them and for the firm. Making a very strong business case … is very important." In addition, Fenlon says employees should explain to their boss and co-workers how they'll minimize any challenge that may rise as a result of their absence. Finally, he says, be prepared to negotiate and make a commitment. Employers sometimes fear an employee will leave after obtaining a degree. So consider making a commitment to stay with the company for a period of time after receiving your degree.