Below is a complimentary Demography Unplugged research note written by Hedgeye Demography analyst Neil Howe. Click here to learn more and subscribe.

Howe: Are MBA Programs Worth the Cost? - 9 24 2020 3 53 01 PM

According to a new survey, most students enrolled in top-ranked MBA programs now believe what they’re getting isn’t worth the money. Most instruction has moved online, but only 24% of respondents said they had received any form of reimbursement of their tuition and housing fees. (Bloomberg Businessweek)

NH: Bloomberg Businessweek surveyed current first and second-year MBA students to poll their attitudes towards the shift to online learning. Their responses were mostly negative. 63% of respondents from the top ten business schools said the price of tuition wasn’t worth the degree. Only a quarter reported receiving a discount due to online classes. 

Since the pandemic, enrollment and applications for MBA programs have plummeted. Purdue’s Krannert School of Management announced that applications have dropped 70% from 2009 to this year. Enrolment is down 61% over the same time period. The school has decided not even to enroll a fall 2021 class.

Well before before Covid-19, the MBA was already losing its popularity. In 2018, 70% of colleges offering an MBA program reported a decline in applicants from the year before. So is it even still worth it to get an MBA?  

The main two benefits are name recognition and networking. Simply graduating from Harvard Business School all but guarantees you a job on Wall Street. And with everyone in your class going on to prestigious companies, your connections can become a powerful tool down the line. 

With online learning, however, networking goes out the window. Most, if not all, in-person student events have been cancelled. And there aren't opportunities to run into your next mentor or employer on campus anymore.

What's more, unlike medical school or law school, it's not at all clear that business school actually trains you in a profession. Mark Cuban and Elon Musk famously believe that gaining real-world experience ultimately will put you ahead of the person who spent thousands of dollars and a couple of years on a fancy title. This line of thinking is very common among Gen-Xers: It’s not about credentials but what you can do.

Despite the decline in perceived value, MBA programs remain extremely expensive: The most prestigious still cost north of $150,000 for just two years. Those years might be better spent working and gaining real-world experience. (See "Six-Figure Tuitions Are Coming to Colleges.")

IMO, you will get the best value out of an MBA if you can gain entry to an Ivy League program. You can certainly make it without the degree, but having Yale or Harvard on your resume is going to give you a clear advantage.

But a lesser-known school? That’s not worth the tuition, especially if it’s over Zoom. And just look what Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs did without even finishing their BA.

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Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.

A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.

Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."

Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.

Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.

Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.