To MBA or not to MBA?

Fierce competition among universities offering the degrees suggests they’re still held in high regard.
Julia Anderson |   August 2013   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION
Jon Berkeley

Will Weinig believes a master’s degree in business administration from Washington State University Vancouver will give him an edge in the international hospitality and tourism industry. An MBA, says the German-born 24-year-old, will improve his marketability, enrich his knowledge of business theory and give him a distinctively American credential in a competitive global job market.

An estimated 3,400 others studying at 15 public and private institutions in Washington state see it more or less the same way: An MBA is a career plus, worth the investment in time and money, not only for the degree but also for the network of classmates, faculty and alumni that comes with it.

The money part, however, can be daunting. Average annual tuition per student ranges from $10,000 at WSU Vancouver to more than $40,000 for certain specialty MBAs at Seattle University and the University of Washington.

For the schools—large and small, public and private— MBA programs are big business. In Washington, these programs generate estimated tuition revenue of more than $70 million a year. And that amount doesn’t include room, board and other student costs. But rising tuition, changing corporate hiring strategies and weakened postgraduate salaries have some wondering about the ongoing value of an MBA. That perception, combined with stiff competition for qualified students, declining full-time MBA enrollment and rising operating costs, presents challenges for the state’s graduate business school administrators where MBA programs are typically self-supporting.

“It is taking more effort to attract students to your institution,” says Marilyn Gist, associate dean of the highly ranked graduate programs at Seattle University’s Albers School of Business and Economics. “Students are reluctant to take on more debt at the graduate level.”

Meanwhile, fewer students are applying to the many available seats in full-time MBA programs. Bloomberg Businessweek reported last year that 62 percent of full-time, two-year programs noted a decline in applications.

To better compete, many schools are redesigning their curricula, expanding specialty programs, offering more parttime, night-school and online classes and shortening the length of course work for certain degrees so students don’t have to take as much time from their busy schedules to complete their degrees.

Gist says Seattle University is customizing its programs to fit the needs of its students. The Albers School offers a “bridge” MBA program for younger students without work experience and is preparing to roll out some hybrid MBA course work that blends classroom and online study. Gonzaga University in Spokane also has a

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