Fighting Back Against the MBA Backlash: Weighing the ROI

Last Updated Oct 24, 2007 9:54 PM EDT

Last time, I told you why I didn't really disagree with the contention of BNET's latest feature package "What's That MBA Really Worth?" that there's a growing revolt against MBAs. I also explained why I think an MBA should complement -- not replace -- your work experience.

This time, I wanted to take a closer look at Geoffrey James' article, "Five Hard Truths About the MBA," which lists some of the top criticisms of the MBA degree path. As I was reading the article, I tended to agree with the main criticisms, but I also found myself saying "But..." after each of them.

So, here's my take. And MBAs out there, jump in! Does Geoffrey speak the truth, or is there more to the story?

#1: The ROI isn't up to snuff

I probably covered this criticism the most in my rebuttal last week, but it bears repeating: If you look at an MBA as simply a means to earn more money, you are probably setting yourself up for a fall. There's no guarantee an MBA will bring you more cash, but what it can do is open up opportunities for you to take on new projects and develop new skills.

If it does bring you more money, great! Everybody likes raises. But don't expect it -- and definitely don't take out more loans than you can handle betting on a raise or higher paying job that may never come to pass.

Don't overlook the ROI part of this criticism. While education is an investment, how strong that investment is can really depend. Taking out a boatload of loans to pay for a "name-brand" MBA might not pay off in the long run.

Fight back against this drawback by managing your expectations -- and your budget.

Edited to add: I actually drafted this post last week before any of the degree discussion started on the site. But after reading BNET members' comments, I'd be remiss not to highlight one theme that surfaced: ROI isn't just about the tuition costs. It's also about the people you meet in school -- people that can later become friends in the business, coworkers, or even partners.

What's your take on the ROI of an MBA? Do you agree that it's just not enough to justify forking over the cash for an advanced degree? MBAs out there, how does it look from your side of the table?