ROI of the MBA Strong Across Most Tiers

Just about everyone knows that earning an MBA degree offers an excellent return on investment. But what’s interesting to learn is that even schools outside of the Top 20 and without a globally recognized brand still offer degree-holders the chance to rake in a seven-figure income over a two-decade period.

PayScale, which collects salary data from individuals through online pay comparison tools, provided an analysis for Poets&Quants which revealed that the career and salary benefits extended far beyond top tier MBA programs.

Several schools offer a greater ROI than their ranking would suggest, Payscale determined. MBAs from Boston University, says P&Q’s editor in chief John A. Byrne as an example, earned enough money–$2,329,000–to put them at No. 19 on the list, even though his organization ranks BU’s full-time MBA program at 40.

Similarly, MBAs from UC-Irvine’s Merage Business School will earn an estimated $2,319,932 over the 20 years, putting Merage alums at No. 21 on the list, though the school’s MBA program is ranked at 47.

That’s not to say attending a top school isn’t really worth the hefty cost; far from it. The highly ranked, big-brand schools tend to deliver the highest earnings over a 20-year period, Byrne reports.

Harvard Business School’s MBAs come out on top, with median income of $3,233,000. Stanford MBA holders are next with $3,011,000, and Wharton comes in third with $2,989,000. Harvard MBAs, in fact, earned nearly twice as much as MBAs from Texas A&M’s Mays Business School, who pull in $1,781,820 over 20 years,” he notes.

The deans of two prominent business schools weigh in on the issue in Byrne’s story. Robert Bruner of the University of Virginia’s Darden School, isn’t surprised by the strong association between income potential and where you earn your MBA.

“There is a winners-take-all, self-reinforcing cycle in higher education: certain schools attract excellent student talent, which in turn attracts intense recruiter activity and high-salary offers. The employment results make it easier for those schools to attract excellent student talent…and the cycle continues,” Bruner says.

Paul Danos, dean of Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, notes that while the elite programs require a significant investment in time and money, it pays off in both career options and compensation. “The top programs are able to recruit the best qualified students, provide a truly excellent educational experience, and therefore attract top recruiters who recognize the value of that experience.”

While industry choice, geographic location, and other factors ultimately influence ROI, those in management education are unanimous in their belief that no other degree can open doors as the MBA does.

““It is a transformative experience that enables an engineer to become a financier, a high school teacher to become a marketing executive, or an auditor to become a mergers and acquisition specialist for a top corporation, says Danos. “I know of no other educational experience that can match the total value proposition of a 2-year full time MBA.”

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