Historically, prominent, “big name” schools have dominated the rankings for top MBA programs. In recent years, however, a large number of second-tier schools have emerged as leaders in specialized MBA degrees.
According to the annual rankings compiled by US News & World Report, prominent universities still lead the way when it comes to MBA programs. Harvard University, Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania (Wharton), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan) and Northwestern University (Kellogg) are currently listed as the five best MBA programs in the United States. USNWR determines its rankings through a comprehensive system of methodology that weighs factors like peer and recruiter assessment, starting salaries and projected employment rates for graduates, and collective GMAT scores among program enrollees.
In recent years, many second-tier schools have begun to offer “specialized” MBA programs in order to attract prospective students. A November 2011 article in Bloomberg Businessweek noted that traditional MBA programs declined 2 percent in the two previous years; during that same period, specialized MBA programs grew 11 percent nationwide. These programs include the wine MBA offered at Sonoma State University, a gaming management program offered at the University of Nevada and an MBA focused on energy offered at the University of Oklahoma’s Price College of Business.
Jan Williams, board chairman of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), told Bloomberg that these specialized programs are designed to differentiate schools from the “hundreds” of available MBA programs. “If you can take some portion of your program that specializes in an area students can’t get anywhere else, you make your program more attractive,” she said.
As the Bloomberg article notes, specialized MBAs have been created to cover a wide range of professional disciplines. At Belmont University’s Massey School of Business in Nashville, students can earn an advanced degree in music business management. Program enrollees study fundamental concepts of the music industry like strategic marketing and technology, and intern with local record labels. At Embry-Little Aeronautical University in Florida, master’s students can earn a degree in aviation management.
The program introduces every aspect of aviation – from inventories and logistics to passenger and cargo management – and allows students to intern with major companies like Boeing in order to gain full understanding of how the airline industry operates. And at UCLA, students can earn an advanced degree in media, entertainment and sports management. This program teaches broad fundamentals of talent management while also allowing students to take niche courses pertaining to their desired career path. Graduates are often recruited by major production companies like Warner Bros., NBC Universal and the Walt Disney Co.
While Francesca Levy of Bloomberg Businessweek admits that the trend of specialized MBA programs at second-tier B-schools “seems to have legs,” she notes that these niche programs are not suitable for every student. She argues that, while many specialized degree programs boast the same placement rates as their counterparts at prominent universities, they tend to have fewer working relationships with job recruiters. For this reason, employment rates among graduates of the former are typically far lower than the latter.
Another problem, Levy notes, is that specialized MBA programs are often too narrowly focused. “Graduates always run the risk of getting hamstrung by their specialties later in their careers,” she writes, “when an industry downturn forces them to look outside their specialties for opportunities.” Prospective students should thoroughly research specialized programs prior to enrollment – and fully understand the inherent uncertainties of pursuing careers in a specific field.
Many students have launched successful careers with the help of a specialized MBA, while others have struggled to find work in a job market oversaturated with advanced degree holders. Despite the uneven results, specialized MBA programs have proven quite popular with students. In the coming years, experts predict these programs will continue to rise as traditional MBA programs decline.
By, Emma Collins is an expert in all things business school, and was the pen behind the recently published MBA Online: Rankings Report 2012, a guide for students interested in pursuing a graduate education. She joins the blog today to follow up on previous discussions about how to become powerful in business. Getting a degree is of course essential — but with more and more choices out there, finding the right program is harder now than ever before. Emma walks readers through some of the options, and makes a few useful recommendations. Image by liquene and Dell.