Is the MBA the Degree for Slackers?

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by John A. Byrne on

A controversial story claiming that business has become the default major for undergraduate slackers is gaining some resonance with MBA graduates and B-school profs who say there are similar problems in graduate business education.

The story, “The Default Major: Skating Through B-School,” is a collaboration between The New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education. It reports that business majors spend less time preparing for class than do students in any other broad field. Quoting from a new book, “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” the article also claims that business majors had the weakest gains during the first two years of college on a national test of writing and reasoning skills.

And when business students take the GMAT, according to the book, they score lower than students in every other major. The story also attacks the large number of group assignments in business schools as a way for students to avoid doing much work.

While the entire article deals with undergraduate business education, the comments the story is attracting on the New York Times’ website shows that the criticism has hit a chord with MBA graduates as well.

A WHARTON MBA CLAIMS THERE WAS RAMPANT CHEATING AT THE SCHOOL.

Writes a reader from Seattle who claims to have a Wharton MBA: “All of the problems mentioned in this article were rampant in my program, along with one not mentioned: cheating. I vividly recall an advanced accounting exam whose answers were passed around the night before. I’ve often thought about that exam when reading about the financial collapse.

“As for group projects, after a disastrous experience replete with free-riding, I gave up on my group and did the rest of the ‘group’ projects alone. It was lonely, but it was better than having my work stolen.

“To be perfectly blunt about it, I saw more effort, honesty, and curiosity in my parochial elementary school than I did at Wharton. I don’t regret the MBA – it paid well. But there is a material level of fraud in even the ‘elite’ programs. Caveat emptor.”

The Wharton MBA basher was not the only critic. Another reader, identifying himself as ‘Mark’ from Boston, claimed that his MBA class “was mostly composed of people who had been in the real world and it was required for them to have had relevant business experience. But it was the same story. We had our upper 10 percent who were driven and then pretty much everyone else. There were only two people who didn’t get the degree (and shouldn’t have) but I can’t imagine most of the rest in any sort of leadership position.”

Mark, who said he was a science major undergrad with a master’s in computer science as well as an MBA, said he also taught as an adjunct professor for 22 years. “I can tell you that the business students are, always, the least interested in learning, and the most mediocre students I have,” he wrote.

GROUP WORK WAS A WAY TO DO LITTLE OR NO WORK FOR SOME.

The reader also had less than positive things to say about the group work in his MBA program. “We, too, used the group way of doing things, except in my group we literally kicked someone out for not doing their share. We were, however, the only ones that did and the person found a home elsewhere and went on to graduate.

“That being said, I like to think that these people all get washed out in the real world, but I think that’s wishful thinking for the most part. I follow most of my classmates and some of these types are either hanging on somewhere (probably by getting others to do the work and taking the credit as in school) or, more interestingly, not going anywhere…But I think the serious problem is at the administrative level because these people should be failed out of the programs and they’re not. At least 30 percent of my MBA class should have exited but didn’t because they were worth $85,000 (in tuition) for the two years.”

STUDENTS AT A TOP-TEN MBA PROGRAM CAN’T ‘COMPOSE SIMPLE SENTENCES OR PAPERS WITH BASIC ORGANIZATION.’

A recent law school graduate told the Times that her boyfriend is currently enrolled in a Top 10 MBA program. “Over the past year, I have proof-read his various groups’ papers for spelling, grammar, etc. and have been blown away at his fellow students’ inability to compose even simple sentences or papers with basic organization,” she wrote. “When I mentioned this fact to some friends recently, including a girl who had recently graduated from the same MBA program last spring, she said: ‘They grade us on our ideas–NOT on our ability to write.’ At a top ten business school? My law professors seemed perfectly capable of grading us on both.”

Also wading into the debate stirred up by the article are business school professors who largely reaffirm the story’s criticisms. One person describing himself as a B-school teacher at a “large state university,” wrote that “business majors do not want to read or truly try to master their subjects. I believe many students major in business subjects because they’ve heard they can get a job.

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