Hitting the books for an MBA

Is a Master of Business Administration right for you?


Brian Burton, dean of Western’s College of Business and Economics, said getting an MBA can increase your compensation and give you more knowledge and a better skill base to manage yourself and employees.


For some business professionals, going back to school to get an MBA is a must.

For others, an MBA might be a waste of time.

The trick is knowing which category you fall into.

Tom Dorr, director of Western Washington University’s Small Business Development Center, has never told a business professional that they absolutely needed to get a Master of Business Administration, better known as an MBA. But he has recommended it as a pathway to get to an ownership position in a company or to increase the chances of getting to an upper-management position.

“I’m of the firm belief that business owners need to constantly be improving their skills,” he said. “But I’m not a firm believer that having an MBA is the end-all-be-all to running a successful business.”

An MBA can offer some definitive advantages in the business world, however.

Brian Burton, dean of Western’s College of Business and Economics, said an MBA offers students an understanding of organizational management that is intended to combine conceptual approaches with practical approaches to problems.

When a small business owner has no desire to expand, then an MBA probably won’t be helpful to you, he said.

“But if you’re looking to expand, if you’re looking to diversify, or to get into another career, a traditional MBA is very helpful,” he said. “If you are looking to grow from a five-person to a 100-person organization, or you’re already a 100-person organization and want to become a more professional organization … when companies get to a certain size, it becomes more difficult for an entrepreneur to run that themselves. If you want to keep the reins, an MBA makes sense.”

Richard Johnson, owner of Airporter Shuttle, said he decided to get an MBA four years after getting his undergraduate degree because he thought he needed a better grounding in finance.

Working for four years in the real world at a marketing and sales firm helped him in the MBA program because he had a better idea of how the classes would apply to actual business situations.

Johnson attributes his success with Airporter Shuttle to his MBA experience, at least in part.

“Getting an MBA helped,” he said. “It’s not a requirement, but all of your experiences — your family, your faith — come together to make a person. It was good training.”

When is it absolutely necessary to get an MBA?

If you are on a management track and have a non-business undergraduate degree, you should definitely consider getting an MBA, Burton said.

For example, an engineer at BP Cherry Point, who has been tagged by plant management as someone who could be a manager but has never taken a business course, is a prime candidate for an MBA.

He recommends getting an MBA to those who are finding they can’t compete in the marketplace as a business professional or who are taking over a business from a parent.

Getting an MBA can increase your compensation, give you more knowledge and skill base and an ability to manage yourself and other people better, he said.

In addition to a higher salary, an MBA will expose you to peers who you can learn from and network with, Burton said.

“In working with people in classes who are at your level and facing the same problems you are, and are likely to be already working and getting an MBA in the evening, you’re learning from each other to a great degree because you are talking about issues you’re dealing with every day,” he said. “The faculty picks up on these issues and uses them as examples in class.”

Are there any disadvantages to getting an MBA?

For some people, the cost at some schools can be prohibitive.

“You really have to look at the return on your investment,” Dorr said. According to Forbes.com, the average cost of earning an MBA is $100,000.

He also emphasized that MBA programs can be a big commitment.

Johnson agreed.

“You need to be analytical about the decision,” he said. “It’s going to cost you, and you need to make sure the decision will have a payback.”

Burton added that some specific career tracks would behoove someone to get a more specific graduate degree.

“If you are in a very specific career track there are probably better degrees, like a master’s in public accounting, or public administration or health care administration,” he said. “If not, the MBA is a broader degree and is still accepted in all those areas.”

The Princeton Review recommends considering the following questions before applying to an MBA program:

  • How much salary will you forgo by leaving the workforce? Can you live without it? What fixed costs (mortgage, daycare, etc.) do you have that will persist through your MBA program?
  • What will the tuition be?
  • What’s the cost of living in the area where the school is located? Is it higher or lower than where you are now?
  • How will you pay for it? Will you need to borrow money? If so, what are potential sources of funds? Will you have family assistance (parents, spouse, grandparents, etc.)? If not, how will loans affect your standard of living?
  • If you have a family, spouse, or significant other, how will getting your MBA affect them?
  • If your spouse or significant other works, will he/she be able to find a new job in a different location? Will school interrupt his/her career progression?

Visit www.princetonreview.com/mba/research/advsearch/match.asp for help narrowing down advanced business school options.


Profile of Western Washington University’s MBA Program

Western’s program offers the following three tracks:

  • Traditional: Daytime, two-year track that takes 21 months to complete. This is the traditional MBA program in which students learn the basics of economics, accounting and management during the first year and advanced courses the second year.
  • Accelerated: Daytime track for those who already have an undergraduate business degree. This is a 12-month program in which students begin with the advanced courses.
  • Evening: Part-time, evening class track designed for working professionals. Many businesses and organizations will pay for management-track professionals to get this degree, Burton said. This track is a nine-quarter program (the next cohort begins June 2008 with a May 1 deadline for application and ends in August 2010). Students take the same classes as in the first daytime track. This August, 25 students will graduate from this track.

Western’s MBA program was included in the 2008 Edition of Princeton Review’s best 290 business schools in the world. Tuition for the 2006 to 2007 school year (fall, winter and spring quarters) was $6,975 for full-time, in-state students and $16,938 for full-time out-of-state students. The part-time evening program costs $7,878 for one year, including summer, of in-state tuition.

The college is hosting an open house for its MBA program on Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. in Parks Hall, room 441. For more information, call 650-3898.

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