The Rise of the Executive MBA Program

The Wall Street Journal - Small ChangeThe college experience today is different in many respects from what it was even five or 10 years ago. Some of the changes have to do with recruiting and admissions; others are more focused on programming and expanded course offerings. The post that follows outlines the rise of the executive MBA — not a new program, per se, but a program with new importance to a recovering economy. In this post Julianna Davies, who writes a lot about how students can get a leadership MBA online, walks readers through the vital stats of the modern EMBA model.

Though most people enroll in an MBA program with the idea of becoming an executive, few prospective students are familiar with the Executive MBA or the potential for employers to send employees back to school. Between 2001 and 2010, the number of EMBA courses ranked by the Financial Times grew from 50 to 100. In the 2009 Global Management Education Graduate Survey, graduates rate the executive MBA the highest among MBA programs, with the majority of students polled reporting the executive MBA programs at their respective schools have excellent or outstanding faculty, program structure, fellow students, curriculum, program management and student services. The survey also rated executive MBA graduates as the most satisfied with their education.

The executive MBA is an accredited MBA program designed for working managers and professionals, often with a minimum of seven years of work experience. The class schedule is structured allow students to continue working while they pursue their studies. In EMBA programs, students usually enter as a group, or cohort, and learn together over the course of the program. Since students are usually juggling school, work and any other life responsibilities, EMBA programs usually offer additional support for students, including staff support, meals and other amenities.

EMBA programs usually focus on developing managers by combining practical skills with important theories on business strategy, analysis and leadership in an environment where faculty and students can exchange ideas and challenge one another. Unlike typical MBA students, those pursuing an EMBA degree often already possess a wealth of business experience from various backgrounds. Perhaps the most prominent distinction between a standard MBA and an EMBA is that the expertise EMBA students garner is supposed to prove beneficial for both students and their respective employers.

In the past, employers have often been generous and supportive of employees working towards executive MBAs, with some employers even helping pay student tuition. Though with the recession and economic collapse of 2008, financial support from companies has largely waned. An Executive MBA Council study found that while 37% of of companies offered full reimbursement for EMBA programs 2005, that number dropped to only 32% in 2009. However, while many large companies have scaled back their EMBA efforts, small businesses have actually begun to increase their support for EMBA programs among employees. At Penn State’s Smeal College of Business, 12% of 2010 EMBA students came from small-business employers, up from 7% in 2009. It can also help small businesses to compete against larger, dominant companies. Blein Consulting, a small firm in Monterrey Mexico, for instance, pays half of the tuition for its consultants to attend EMBA programs. Firm partner Olando Solis Camacho says the knowledge and training helps consultants to rethink their strategy. “We’re trying to be (smarter) in the way we compete,” says Camacho.

From the standpoint of an employer, allowing a worker to work towards an EMBA while continuing to work can serve as valuable investment. Assisting EMBA students in their academic pursuits can build loyalty among workers who are also garnering important skills is strategic decision-making and increased productivity. As a benefit to both employers and employees, EMBA graduates can often be counted on to to take on larger responsibilities at their companies in the future. While the demographics of businesses utilizing the EMBA programs may continue to evolve, the enthusiasm espoused by both employees and several companies regarding the program suggests EMBA programs will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.

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