Ka-ching! That’s the sound of one of the fastest-growing sectors in business education, the specialized master’s degree. For schools, non-MBA master’s programs can be a license to print money. For students, the degrees can be a license to save money – then print it. Among the adaptations forced upon business schools by 21st Century realities, the rise of specialty master’s programs is likely eclipsed in scale only by that of online education.
So it’s no surprise that these programs have been sprouting up in great numbers all across America, with some 400 offered at Poets&Quants‘ top 100 business schools in the U.S. (table below: complete listings by school of programs, lengths, and tuition). Globally, more than 20% of prospective business students are focused exclusively on specialized master’s programs, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council.
While the massive growth in this educational sector is recent, specialized master’s programs at B-schools are not new. The Stanford Graduate School of Business has been running an elite master’s in leadership since 1958. A fair number of accounting programs date back decades, including one at the University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business University launched in 1948, and one at North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School, started in 1985. Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business has offered a Master of Nonprofit Administration degree since 1958.
EXPLOSIVE GROWTH IN RECENT YEARS
Still, the vast majority of the specialty master’s in America’s top B-schools have been added much more recently, with large numbers appearing in the past three years, pushed into being by student demand, demand from employers for workers needing little training, and the fast-spreading realization among school administrators that they can meet these symbiotic demands by launching master’s programs atop existing MBA program infrastructure, taking advantage of existing administration, facilities, faculty, and course materials to reduce startup and operational costs. Schools can capture a larger market of students, and, ideally, send well-prepared, accelerated graduates into a hungry job market. Mid- and lower-tier B-schools in particular need a boost in the face of stalled demand for two-year MBA degrees, and slackening enrollment in many part-time MBA programs – the specialty programs are most heavily concentrated in these tiers. Of the 400 specialized master’s programs in the top 100 schools, only about 50 are in the top 25.
Specialty master’s programs present a number of attractive prospects for would-be students. Most of the degrees are aimed at recent college graduates with little or no work experience, though there remain a fair number oriented toward more experienced students. A specialized master’s can provide a leap ahead, conferring an advantage over those wielding only undergraduate degrees, as well as connecting students and graduates with a school’s network, and receiving – again ideally – effective career services from school staff plugged into the job market. The degrees tend to take a year or less full time, although many are offered in part-time versions, or online, and can be completed longer-term, and several programs run two years. While graduates’ starting pay typically falls significantly below that of MBAs from the same schools, many programs yield a decent bump in salary along with career trajectory.