MBA Still Gold Standard

For The Tennessean

Graduates with MBAs may have taken a beating on NBC’s The Apprentice this season, but a master’s of business administration and a master’s of accounting are still the gold standard for students in business schools.

Average MBA salaries are pushing toward $90,000 a year, depending on the industry doing the hiring.

After a downturn in business school enrollment over the last four years, the numbers are up again, say the deans of business schools in the region. They also say the culture of business schools has changed because of the accounting and insider trading scandals that have hit business legends from Enron’s Kenneth Lay to Martha Stewart in recent years.

Ironically, the accounting scandals have also helped fuel a demand for new talent.

There’s been a growing demand for accountants because companies must comply with Sarbanes-Oxley Act rules designed to give investors a truer picture of corporate financials after the Enron and WorldCom scandals.

“We are seeing a significant upturn in the number of companies on campus,” said Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management’s Dean Jim Bradford. “We are seeing the demand level back to the 2000-2001 era for MBAs.”

Bradford said on average the beginning salary for a new graduate is about $87,000 but added that the numbers vary by industry.

Vanderbilt’s Bradford said recruiters were looking for graduates with “very specific sets of skills” such as financial services or human organizational performance. He said the Owen School of Management is in the final stages of developing an MBA degree in health care.

“It will be a concentration, plus,” Bradford said. “It will bring together not just the normal aspects of an MBA education, but it will bring together the focus that Vanderbilt University has in this area.”

Raoul Russell, director of graduate programs at Tennessee State University, said the MBA is still the standard by which an executive in a company can move his or her career forward.

“The MBA is still the degree everyone is after as far as a career booster,” he said, adding that employers were looking for graduates with concentrations in marketing or finance.

“The concentrations are very well-received, which is why we’re working on them,” Russell said.

“You can say that it is decidedly market-driven.”

Several business schools, including Tennessee State and Vanderbilt, offer MBA programs for working adults. Owen Graduate School of Management offers the traditional daytime program and an Executive MBA for senior executives held on alternating weekends over 21 months

Ian Stewart, dean of Belmont University’s Jack C. Massey Graduate School of Business, said his school is in the unique position of offering one of the few MBAs in the music business nationally.

“We’ve got people coming from all over the United States,” Stewart said. “We’ve got people coming from Tokyo and Europe.”

Belmont is setting up alliances with schools in other countries to broaden its scope of learning about a global economy, the dean said.

“The benefit of that is internationalization. I think that it was Peter Drucker who said there are those who can operate efficiently in a dynamic global economy and those who are looking for work,” said Stewart, who noted that on Music Row, Sony Music is Japanese-owned, EMI British-owned and Bertelsmann’s Music Group is a German company.

Dr. Troy Festervand, associate dean for graduate and executive education at Middle Tennessee State University, said an MBA or master’s of accounting graduate with an undergraduate degree in a different discipline has a set of skills that is sure to attract employers.

“All of them are looking for concentrations, whether … in finance or economics,” Festervand said. “You plug it in. But at the same time, you marry that with an undergraduate degree that is in a different area, and you’ve got multiple skill sets.

“As the economy turns upward there are more job opportunities. Experience still sells,” Festervand said, adding that he sees more graduates putting their degrees to work in the nonprofit and public sectors.

“I am seeing a lot of MBAs get into what I am going to refer to as nontraditional settings such as nonprofits,” said Festervand. “They have got to be able to generate revenue, and they have taken the perspective that whether they are a for-profit or nonprofit they still need to be operating as if they were a for-profit.”


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