Study Finds Professional MBA Students Shifting Goals

Job Security Outweighs Advancement as Motive for Pursuing Master’s Degrees

Oct. 21, 2010

A UT Dallas researcher surveying the expectations of professional (part-time) MBA students sees in the results an important generational shift, a message that students today view the degree as an employment guarantee and count on it leading to huge pay raises, big promotions and better jobs.

This message has broad implications for business-school educators and college career-service staffs, said School of Management Associate Dean Monica Powell. “It suggests that business schools may need to carefully rethink many aspects of how they reach and teach this group of students.”

Powell designed the Professional MBA Student Expectations Survey, which was conducted among 1,116 students at four public and four private universities from coast to coast between April and September. She heard from 632 of those surveyed, a 56.6 percent response rate. Students answered 47 questions that sought opinions on faculty, program design, networking, career outlook and more.

Dean Hasan Pirkul

“The results tune us in to student perceptions and tell us what they are relying on us to deliver.”

Dr. Hasan Pirkul, dean of the School of Management

Respondents gave more reasons for pursing a graduate degree than they typically have  in the past, said Powell, who is presenting her preliminary results to fellow educators at the 17th Annual PMBA Conference at DePaul University on Oct. 21. Part-time degree seekers “want promotions, industry and job changes, more money, more marketability,” she said. But underlying many of those motivations is a core belief “that getting an MBA still has job security and advancement potential,” she said.

That belief and those answers represent a generational shift in attitude among part-time students, according to Powell. “In the 1990s, students earned a degree to move up within their organizations, to take on more responsibility, to have more skills sets,” she says. “These days, in this survey, they didn’t discuss that. They’re keeping themselves competitive, seeking job security, looking for connections, aiming for more resilience. It’s almost as if they are pursuing the degree as an insurance policy.”

School of Management Dean Hasan Pirkul said the findings are valuable.

“Dean Powell’s survey is very useful for us, and for any business school with a professional MBA program,” Pirkul said. “The results tune us in to student perceptions and tell us what they are relying on us to deliver. Data will help us plan courses and programs, hire faculty and staff, set recruiting goals and more.”

Powell was surprised by respondents’ high expectations about pay and promotion.  About 51 percent expected their salaries to increase 16 percent or more after graduation, and 68 percent anticipated a promotion within six to 12 months. “How are we educators going to support or moderate these expectations?” Powell asked. “What does this mean for our career-management functions?”

Demands on student services will continue to increase, she believes, and “programs will need larger staffs.” This view is in part predicated on the expectation held by 95 percent of respondents that their schools should provide networking opportunities, and the belief among 87 percent that campus career offices should supply connections as well as resources for finding new jobs after graduation.

The study reflects consistency across all eight participant schools: DePaul, Georgia State, Loyola Marymount and Saint Louis universities; the University of California-Irvine; the University of Minnesota; UT Dallas; and Wake Forest University.

“Students entering public schools and those entering private ones don’t differ on what they want to get from their education,” Powell says. In fact, the survey revealed few significant variants between public- and private-student views.

One message from survey respondents that Powell found surprising — particularly in light of the fact that 93 percent of respondents were age 40 or younger — was the large number who did not want their schools to use social media to communicate with them. Among all who answered, 41 percent — 259 students — did not want their schools to communicate with them this way.

“We are going to need to figure out what they prefer,” she says.

The survey and its results are available from Dean Powell. Contact her at mpowell@utdallas.edu.


Media Contact: Kris Imherr, Naveen Jindal School of Management, (972) 883-4793, imherr@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu
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Dr. Monica PowellDr. Monica Powell believes the  results show a  difference from attitudes of the 1990s.

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