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MBA degree retains popularity among IT pros

published on October 31, 2002

An MBA could help you attain an IT directorship or a CIO position, but having the degree these days won't guarantee a promotion, or even a better job, according to statistics from educational sources. Twenty-six percent of MBAs had a job in hand when they graduated last spring, compared to the 41 percent of MBAs who entered the workforce a year ago, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).

The culprit is the poor economy, according to MBA program recruiters. Yet the dismal workforce outlook doesn't seem to be hurting MBA enrollments. There were 112,258 MBA degrees awarded during the 1999-2000 academic year— up nearly 20 percent from five years ago, and 46 percent from 10 years ago, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

TechRepublic members attribute the MBA's popularity to the increasing expectation from organizations that tech leaders should know more about business and corporate financial aspects than ever before. And while the MBA may not translate to career ascension immediately, most IT professionals do believe a master's degree will pay off.

How an MBA could make the difference

"I view my MBA as a way to open doors," said TechRepublic member Lynn S. Solace, practice director at Cunningham Technology Group, an IT consultancy in Phoenix. Solace, who earned his MBA in June 2002 from Keller Graduate School of Management, has a BS in Computer Information Systems. He hopes his MBA will make him stand out from the competition in future career aspirations.

"It doesn't compensate for experience, but combined with the experience I already have, it should allow me to explore professional opportunities that I would not otherwise be considered for."

TechRepublic member Warren Seetahal believes an MBA will make him more valuable to his employer. Seetahal, an IT manager at S.L. Horsford & Co. Ltd., a St. Kitt's-based holding company, is pursuing his MBA via Rushmore University's distance learning program. He began his coursework in May 2002 and hopes to complete it by September 2003. So far, he's refined his accounting, finance, and strategic planning skills, he said.

"I am sure my next step would be in the direction of an IT director or CIO," said Seetahal, who also has a BS from University of the West Indies in Trinidad & Tobago, an MCSE, and an MS.

MBA certification can boost effort

New efforts to shore up the educational effort involved in earning an MBA aim to add value to the degree. One is MBA certification. The certification aspect is needed because an MBA degree simply might not be enough with the increasing competition, said Michael Mebane, executive in residence at University of North Carolina-Greensboro Bryan School of Business and Economics.

"I have not lost confidence in the concept of MBA as an educational direction," explained Mebane. "But I do believe [the MBA] has become commoditized. And I do believe the MBA students, regardless of the institution they go to, need a way to differentiate themselves."

That's what spurred Mebane and Bernard Beatty, of Wake Forest University's Babcock Graduate School of Management, to create an MBA certification examination. Thomson Prometric developed the test, which is offered as a free beta (until Dec. 21, 2002) via the International Certification Institute (ICI) at, explained Mebane, who serves as ICI managing director.

More than 300 people have signed up to take the beta since it was announced on September 1. The roster includes students and graduates of five of the top 10 ranking MBA programs and nearly half of the top 50 MBA programs.

The certification enrollees can begin to take the beta tests on November 1 at any of the 380 Prometric Testing Centers around the United States and Canada.

The test demonstrates an MBA graduate's mastery of four core areas: financial reporting, analysis, and markets; domestic and global economic environments and organizations; creation and distribution of goods and services; and human behavior in organizations.

Mebane believes that the MBA certification will provide candidates with enhanced career opportunities and set them ahead of professionals who simply hold the MBA degree.

IT pros drawn to other master's programs too

Other IT professionals who respect the value a master's degree provides are studying on the master's level to increase computing expertise. TechRepublic member Alexander S. Curtis, a data sales engineer for Verizon Wireless, is completing his Master of Science in IT from Capella University.

Curtis considered an MBA but decided he had sufficient business savvy and financial background. He wanted to shore up his technology skills. Capella's technical program offered more hands-on Web development, MEL, firewall network security configuration, and other enterprise application devolvement skills, he explained.

"Maybe, in the future, I may continue graduate studies and pursue an MBA or doctorate degree in organizational management," said Curtis. "The IT industry is rapidly evolving and you must continue to sharpen your axe to stay competitive."

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david southgate
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