MBA: A Must for Rising IT Professionals?

According to new research from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, firms in the United States value IT professionals’ MBA degrees much more than IT experience. The study, published in this month’s Management Science Journal, reveals that an IT professional with an MBA degree earns 46% more than a counterpart with only a bachelor’s degree and 37% more than one with any other master’s degree.

“Our research confirms that getting an MBA is the single best move you can make to increase your value as an IT professional in today’s market,” says Sunil Mithas, Smith assistant professor of decision, operations and information technologies and lead author of the study.

“Education is more valuable than experience because it provides more durable and versatile conceptual skills. In contrast, IT experience has high rate of obsolescence–learning new technologies only makes a professional valuable for a few years when those skills are in high demand. An MBA education teaches how to evaluate new technologies or how to strategically invest in and manage IT projects, which makes for a more valuable long-term employee that can use those skills in a variety of situations,” Mithas adds.

Companies also place greater value on IT experience acquired at other firms than at the current firm, says Mithas and co-author M.S. Krishnan of the University of Michigan, explaining the high turnover culture in the IT profession. Also, many perceive job-hopping as the only way to get ahead in the industry. The researchers found no evidence that having both an MBA degree and significant IT experience boosted an employee’s salary more than having the MBA alone. says that, for rising IT professionals, questions about whether to pursue an MBA degree are urgent: They need to know whether it’s worth the time–two years of full-time study, or countless nights in after-work classes–and tens of thousands of dollars. A debate has been bubbling for months: More than 500 respondents to an online poll were split down the middle as to whether an MBA is a great help or a waste of time.

Penelope Trunk’s book Brazen Careerist, The New Rules for Success, aimed at 20- and 30-somethings, quotes the advice of John Challenger, the CEO of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Go get it, Challenger says, and if you can do it while you’re in your 20s, all the better for your future. But he adds: “Top business schools have a premium value. If you attend the third tier, do it at night because the financial loss and career stagnation while you’re in school do not outweigh the benefit of the degree.”

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