MBA – Not All It Should Be

MBA - Master of Business Administration
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All is not well in the land of management education.

Before coming to Columbia Business School, I hadn’t thought deeply about the purpose of an MBA. Now, after two years, I’m convinced that business schools in general are failing to inculcate any real sense of direction or moral obligation in their students.

In my experience, business-school coursework is treated as a nuisance, helped by the proliferation of “grade non-disclosure” at the nation’s leading schools. The core curriculum lacks a core, and even the most dedicated students find it hard to acquire a substantial body of learning. While some professors try valiantly to instill a sense of social mission, their efforts are usually overwhelmed by a pervasive ethos of greed.

The business-school experience seems to boil down to conspicuous consumption (class trips to exotic locales, meticulously documented on social media, are much in favor), ceaseless networking, and not much actual learning. Business schools are increasingly divorced from their university environment and feel more like, well, businesses. For decades now, universities have built up this product line, using it to subsidise other schools and turning a blind eye to what is and isn’t taught. Increasingly, the students look like customers who’ve been overcharged.

Business schools’ main value proposition is entry into high-paying sectors like hedge funds –- but this advantage is eroding. In my class, one of the most sought-after tech employers told potential hires they should start work right away instead of finishing their degree. This suggests that the main value of business school is not what you learn but the admission committee’s ability to screen. Friends working in private equity say they’ve been advised against getting an MBA: Firms are increasingly willing to hire and promote people without one. – Kim Gittleson

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