Evolution of the Executive M.B.A.

This post originally appeared on the U.S. News — Strictly Business blog.

Executive M.B.A. programs have come a long way since the first such program launched at the University of Chicago in 1943. Unlike the traditional M.B.A., E.M.B.A. programs aim to work around the schedules of busy managers and often include such perks as meals and accommodations, as well as opportunities for international work experience. Another crucial distinction from the standard M.B.A.: historically, companies have sponsored 100 percent of their employees’ studies. With the price tag of the E.M.B.A. between $70,000 and $140,000, these programs have long been business schools’ proverbial cash cow.

But times are changing. According to a story in the fall issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review, executive M.B.A. programs are now at a crossroads. Francis Petit, associate dean for executive M.B.A. programs at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Business Administration in New York City, believes that business schools need to adapt to new market conditions and develop new strategies going forward as several trends influence the traditional program model.

Since the global financial meltdown, corporate belt-tightening has led to dramatic cuts in tuition assistance for employees. The Executive M.B.A. Council‘s 2010 Membership Program Survey indicates that 35 percent of E.M.B.A. students in 2010 were fully self-sponsored, a figure that has changed little in the past five years. (In 2006, 33 percent were self-sponsored.) A mere 30 percent of students received full tuition reimbursement, down from 35 percent in 2006 and 44 percent in 2001. With more managers paying their own way, schools will need to expand career placement services and come up with a new approach to pricing if they hope to continue serving mid-career professionals.

With a condensed class schedule that typically takes 20 to 22 months to complete, the degree is known by some critics as “M.B.A. Lite,” and Petit acknowledges that it’s easy to see why. Whereas participants in a full-time M.B.A. program spend a minimum of 16 months working toward the degree, managers complete an E.M.B.A. in just a tick more time while holding down a demanding full-time job. Business schools need to address these perceptions, says Petit, if they plan on satisfying the demands of self-sponsored applicants as well as employers who want legitimacy.

Despite a still-sluggish economy, the number of executive M.B.A. programs continues to grow as more new programs launched abroad in 2010 than here at home. Matt Symonds just examined the new breed of E.M.B.A.s on Forbes.com and found the key focus is now on international expansion and developing managers who can lead teams in a global business environment.

Symonds highlights notable programs such as Trium, the Global Executive M.B.A. program run jointly by New York University Stern School of Business, London School of Economics and Political Science, and HEC School of Management, Paris. The alliance celebrated its 10th anniversary in July by adding a second cohort in 2012. OneMBA, a partnership of five leading schools on four continents, also turns out executives with enhanced cultural awareness. A participant tells Symonds, “I took what I learned on the weekends and applied it on Monday mornings. My OneMBA global study team was a mirror image of my global team at work.”

On these shores, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business will launch its new, 21-month Global M.B.A. for Executives later this month. The program, based on Darden’s case-method approach, includes six two-week residencies around the world, including time in India, Brazil, China, Europe, and the United States. When announcing the launch of this new international M.B.A. format, Darden Dean Robert Bruner said, “The program will enhance the skills of high-potential executives who need to be ready on Day One to do business in any market around the globe.”

We should see the executive M.B.A. undergo considerable changes over the next five to 10 years as pricing and presentation adjust to market realities. With more programs and new types of offerings sprouting up to accommodate individual schedules and lifestyles, applicants should remember that they are the consumer and can afford to be choosy when making this considerable career investment.

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