Questioning the Value of an MBA

Bloomberg Businessweek is days away from releasing its best business school MBA rankings on Nov. 11. Twitter is abuzz with #WhyMBA as students and grads tweet about why their schools should top the list.

But in today's talent-based economy, how far can an MBA take you? For those who've spent months sweating over standardized tests and arduously preparing their applications, fair warning: Don't expect too much from the degree, unless you have the talent to back it up.
"MBA programs use the same insufficient metrics that colleges do, and that doesn't get at whether folks have talent for managing or for entrepreneurship," says Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education.

Gallup finds that about one in 10 people possess the inherent talent to manage, and an additional two in 10 people have enough basic managerial talent to function at a high level with the right support. These findings suggest that the remaining seven in 10 people might not be MBA material.

When it comes to entrepreneurship, the figures are more dramatic: Early Gallup research on the subject shows that about five in 1,000 working-age adults in the U.S. possess the rare talents of successful entrepreneurs.

Says Busteed, "Business schools don't look at talent -- they look at things like grades and tests scores. So lots of students pay big money for these programs looking for talent as an outcome and don't get it."

Most business schools probably don't know what managerial and entrepreneurial talent look like because typical admission to their MBA program fails to consider it.

But students -- whether aware of their talents or not -- seem undeterred. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the MBA has become the most popular master's degree in America.

"MBA programs send the marketing message that anyone can be a great manager if he or she takes the right classes," Busteed says. "But there's more to it than that. Not everyone who knows how to play basketball belongs in the NBA."

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