December 2nd, 2009 | 6:00 am

Are Executive MBAs Worth it?

filed under Back to School

By GiGi DeVault (Munich)iStock_000009074834XSmall

Build a better Executive MBA (EMBA) program, and they will come. But who benefits most—university coffers or women executives with newly minted EMBAs? EMBA programs now offer women’s support networks, clubs, and mentoring. Some even offer symposiums on work/life balance. Della Bradshaw from the Financial Times described an EMBA as the “Gucci handbag of the business school world.” Glitter and attract, they must—competition is keen. But have universities really just constructed better mousetraps for snapping up tuition?

The challenges women and men face in business are not identical, and the value they place on their MBA degrees reflect this difference. According to the 2005 MBA Alumni Perspective Survey of 2,209 graduates, including EMBAs, men are more likely than women to rate successful MBA program outcomes in terms of their increased knowledge base and their ability to score an international assignment. Women tend to look at whether they are more respected or gain more recognition at work, and if they experienced an increase in self-confidence.

After graduation, like a professional baseball player returning from spring training, an EMBA may still play the same position and, if things are going well, still be on the same team. But now they are expected to play better.

Staying in the Game

Christine Pans stayed at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Amsterdam while enrolled in her EMBA program, and she was promoted to a senior manager. She considers one of the great advantages of an EMBA to be, “You can trial different types of behavior and new ideas in a safe environment on seasoned and demanding professionals. If these approaches work, they help to grow confidence as a manager and leader.”

Jessica Wirth is Assistant Vice President and Equity Analyst at Putnam Investments. In Wharton’s EMBA program, she was able to immediately apply what she was learning. “The finance curriculum covers stuff that I do on a day-to-day basis. Now, I’m going back and relearning things. I didn’t know how much I didn’t know until I sat down in this class…I see myself becoming a better decision maker thanks to this program”.

Movin’ on up

Are women EMBAs truly seen as more promotable, and do the promotions actually follow? According to 2008 research by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), 37% of MBA students expected a promotion following graduation, and 43% actually received a promotion while enrolled in the program. For a lucky few, EMBA program entry is like turning up the burner in a hot air balloon; the ascent is steady and thrilling.

Kathleen Corbet was a manager in an investment firm when she “recognized that to further pursue a career in finance and to advance in the management ranks of the firm, I needed to obtain an MBA.” And advance she did. While in program, she was promoted twice. Following graduation, she stepped up five times to eventually become president of Standard and Poor’s.

Who’s buying?

Off the fairway, women don’t get a handicap—on business school tuition. Women pay the same tuition as men while typically compensated less. In 2008, MBA graduates in general only saw a 23% salary increase from their pre-MBA salary. This may not be such a good leg in business where women start in the outside lane, and run the race while staring at the backs of the competition. For purely fiscal reasons, the value of an EMBA is skewed by who pays tuition.

Sponsored by Johnson & Johnson’s, Jeannie Rojas, Associate Director of Pharmaceutical Division, said that Wharton’s EMBA program “… isn’t a watered-down MBA — this is a full-time MBA program. You really have to come into the program very committed, knowing that you have to devote a lot of time to the program. It’s a rigorous program — certain things in your life will be put on hold for a few years. But it is worth it…I highly recommend this program to technical managers.”

Kristena A. Louie is a Senior Product Manager at Microsoft, and Product Marketing Engineer for Intel while in the Foster School of Business EMBA at the University of Washington. “The EMBA has equipped me with a framework for strategic thinking. Learning the ‘language of business’ has also changed the manner in which I give presentations and have conversations with colleagues and executives in my company. In my job, I directly apply business concepts learned in school on a daily basis. It is by no means an easy journey, but well worth the hard work and effort.”

Is it worth it for women in business today to go after an EMBA? Beyond measures of personal satisfaction, the key issue will continue to be that where the degree is earned is what counts most. Certainly, an EMBA must meet a woman’s individual and professional goals. But the value of the degree is also embedded in the reputation that a business school has achieved based on alumni success and the intellectual capital of its faculty.

3 comments

  1. Women and the EMBA | Stacy Blackman Consulting - MBA Admissions

    [...] Are executive MBAs worth it?, asks GiGi DeVault’s piece posted Wednesday on The Glass Hammer blog. The Financial Times’s Della Bradshaw has described an EMBA as the “Gucci handbag of the business school world.” But, DeVault wonders, have universities really just constructed better mousetraps for snapping up tuition? [...]

  2. Women and the EMBA | B-School Admissions Formula

    [...] Are executive MBAs worth it?, asks GiGi DeVault’s piece posted Wednesday on The Glass Hammer blog. The Financial Times’s Della Bradshaw has described an EMBA as the “Gucci handbag of the business school world.” But, DeVault wonders, have universities really just constructed better mousetraps for snapping up tuition? [...]

  3. xiaowen

    After graduation, like a professional baseball player returning from spring training, an EMBA may still play the same position and, if things are going well, still be on the same team. But now they are expected to play better.