Why Specialized Skills Training is Overtaking MBA Programs

By BrainStation October 15, 2018
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For years, it seemed the MBA – or the master of business administration degree – was the ultimate goal for anyone looking to make a splash in the business world. That, however, seems to be changing, and rapidly.

A recent study from the London-based firm Carrington Crisp found that students across the globe are now favouring more specialized programs over the more generalist MBA. After surveying almost 1,300 students from 39 countries, the firm found that 53 percent preferred specialized programs, with information technology, finance, and entrepreneurship the most popular specialties.

There are a lot of reasons for this shift. Here’s why specialized skills training is giving the once-mighty MBA a run for its money.

MBA Programs Are Losing Their Lustre

First, it’s worth noting that the MBA is far from DOA. Nearly 200,000 students in the U.S. alone have been awarded a master’s degree in business annually since 2010, making it the most popular post-graduate degree in the country. In 2011-12, the last year for which the U.S. Department of Education provides information, 25.4 percent of all master’s degrees conferred were in business.

Still, it’s hard to argue the MBA has not seen a decline in popularity.

Business schools in the United States have experienced a precipitous drop in applications: Rice University’s Jones Graduate School, as one example provided by Poets & Quants, saw candidates to its full-time programs plummet by 27.7 percent. According to the Wall Street Journal, even the titans of the educational industry are suffering; Harvard Business School saw a 4.5 percent dip in applications, while Wharton declined 6.7 percent and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business dropped 4.6 percent.

At the same time as students seem to be looking elsewhere, the MBA is also becoming less coveted by employers.

A survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council found that just 85 percent of U.S. employers intended to hire MBA grads in 2018, down from 91 percent the year before. That might look like a rather subtle dip, but in fact it’s the biggest decline in business-school recruitment since the dawn of the last recession.

MBA Programs Are Expensive

Getting an MBA is not cheap. The average tuition for a two-year MBA program in the U.S. exceeds $60,000, and the top business schools might charge as much as $100,000 annually.

The common thinking used to be that the exorbitant cost of acquiring an MBA would be worth it upon graduation, when the credential all-but-guaranteed a lucrative payoff.

That, too, seems to be changing.

Data from Poets & Quants shows that the value-added ratio for full-time MBA programs has fallen dramatically over the years, meaning the margin between the salary bump offered by completing an MBA program and the steep cost of tuition is slimmer than ever.

With 44.2 million Americans now carrying student loan debt of more than $1.48 trillion collectively, it’s little wonder so many students are wary of spending six figures on a post-graduate degree.

Even billionaire businessman Marc Cuban emphasizes that there might be more cost-efficient ways for learners to boost their education.

“I am not a fan of getting MBAs at all,” he said at the 2018 Turning Point USA High School Leadership Summit. “There are so many online ways to learn and I think you can get far more experience in the workforce and learn more and be in a better position to succeed.

“Because realize,” he added, “there are so many online MBA equivalents that if you are disciplined enough, you can do it for a lot less money and still get a quality education.”

Education Now Needs to Be Continuous 

For those who have already started their careers, the notion of going back to school full-time for an MBA can range from impractical to impossible.

So that’s motivating many to look beyond traditional university graduate programs to part-time, online, or shorter-term credentials, including certificate courses, diploma programs, and other similarly concise educational opportunities.

Even those who do attain MBAs can’t possibly expect that it will be the end of their educational journey.

“The world of work is changing,” Carrington Crisp co-founder Andrew Crisp told the Globe and Mail. “Doing an MBA at 29 and thinking that is the end of it is just a preposterous notion. People will need retraining or additional skills at 45, 65, and they won’t retire until 75, so what are they the things they need and how will the MBA fit into that?”

MBA Programs Are Not Specialized Enough

Ultimately, the Carrington Crisp report found that modern learners often have specific skills, competencies, or qualifications in mind when they pursue post-secondary education.

“Students are seeking something that will help with a specific career they have in mind and a specialist degree, perhaps with part-exemption from a professional body qualification as part of the degree, will help them stand out in a highly competitive jobs market,” Crisp said.

“Career is key and part of that is the ROI of study, which can be multiplied by cheaper study costs on shorter courses. And recruiters have a better understanding of the value of shorter, specialized programs rather than focusing solely on the MBA.”

BrainStation, for instance, offers a range of learning options, with full-time diploma programs and part-time certification courses – both on-campus and online – in areas including data, design, development, marketing and product. Accelerated training programs are also available for design thinking, Google AdWords, Google Analytics, SEO, and Agile Methodology, among others, to help professionals level up their skills, quickly and effectively.

“One size doesn’t fit all,” Crisp said. “That speaks to the personalization agenda. The idea that you will have a mass-market MBA with fairly standard components – there are very few of those that will succeed in the future.”