The great paradox of graduate business education today is that even as the full-time MBA is labeled a dinosaur, degree-holders from top MBA programs inexorably climb the salary ladder. Even at schools where salaries appear to have stalled — or, in even rarer cases, slipped backward — it’s a safe bet that eventually they will break loose and continue their upward progression.
The latest example comes from UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, which released its 2019 employment report Monday (November 25) showing that its newly minted class of MBAs made a median starting salary of $140,000, a school record, up from $125,000 last year. Haas salaries had been mired at $125K for four straight years.
One reason for the jump: more grads going into consulting and financial services than last year. That may also be behind the increase in grads reporting signing bonuses to 76%, tying the high mark set in 2017, at an average of $29,141; though last year when 70% reported receiving bonuses the average was fractionally more, $29,212. But by combining median salary and mean signing bonuses and weighting the calculation based on the number of grads who report receiving a bonus, we find Haas’ Class of 2019 notched $162,147 in overall compensation, which is an 11.5% jump from last year’s $145,448 — and another school record. (Mean overall compensation was up slightly less, 8.1%, from $147,921 to $159,966.)
“For me, the value of the MBA has always been a long-term proposition,” Abby Scott, assistant dean of career management at the Haas School, tells Poets&Quants. “And then, short-term, when you look at compensation increases, there’s always been nice ROI, but I think this year in particular, we’re able to demonstrate that through these data.”
TECH ISN’T THE ONLY TOP FIELD TO BOUNCE BACK IN 2019
The Haas School reported a cooling-off of tech last year, with the percentage of Haas MBAs accepting jobs in the technology industry falling to 31.7% from 36.9% in 2017, a decline of more than 14%; the drop-off was 37% below the school’s high of 43.4% in 2014. But this year tech bounced back a bit, rising to 32.9% — still the highest of any field. Consulting, meanwhile, rose to 25.1% from 24% and financial services climbed to 15% from 13.7%.
In most metrics in the 2019 jobs report, Haas doesn’t report any radical departures. Of the graduating class of 280, 227 MBAs hit the job market (81.1%), with another 13 students (4.6%) starting their own business and 32 (11.4%) sponsored by employers they returned to. Compare that to last year, when 196 of 243 sought jobs (80.7%), and 14 students started own companies while 28 were sponsored.
Overall, 92.9% reported receiving job offers three months after graduation, down from 94.4% in 2018, while 91.2% reported accepting offers, down slightly from 93.4%. The ticking down of offers and acceptances is mostly a normal fluctuation, Scott says, along with the laudable inclination of some Haas MBAs to enjoy their summer and take time returning to work, waiting for the right job with the right company.
“I have a pretty good grasp of what the students were doing who were still looking three months after graduation,” she says. “And I think it’s just a reflection of a very strong job market and students waiting for the right opportunity — or even in some cases feeling confident enough to wait to even begin to actively pursue the right opportunities. Certainly the students had been connecting with employers and alums and laying the foundation for a job search. But in some cases, many just took the summer to enjoy themselves and after a couple of hard years.”
REVERSAL OF FORTUNES
Why were Haas salaries stuck in the mud for so long? It was more a story of industry choice and unreported compensation at Berkeley than a matter of how much top-tier MBA employers are willing to pay the school’s graduates. The percentage of Class of 2018 MBAs who went into nonprofit and government jobs, where salaries are among the lowest and signing bonuses are virtually nonexistent, had doubled to 4.4% of the class, while Haas grads entering consulting, which typically pays the highest starting comp packages and the most reliable signing bonuses, declined last year along with tech jobs. The median base and bonus in the nonprofit sector at Haas was $113,000 in 2018, compared to more than $167,500 in consulting.
But 2019 saw a reversal in these areas, as nonprofit-bound MBAs shrunk to 1.9% of the class; transportation/logistics, manufacturing, and real estate all fell, too. All of those fields have median salaries either well below the class median or uncalculated because of too little data. Meanwhile, all three of the top-paying fields rose as percentages of the class, and their median pay rose, too: consulting to $162,500 (from $137,500, an 18.2% jump), finance to $150,000, and tech to $138,500 (from $130K). Top employers were a familiar gallery of, well, top employers: McKinsey, Amazon, BCG, Bain.
“We really did see an increased number of students going into consulting and financial services — small numbers, but that’s where we saw the largest increases in compensation,” Abby Scott says. “And so I think that is certainly a driver of more of our students. When I looked at the actual numbers of students going to various companies, we did have more graduates this year accepting positions with McKinsey and BCG than we had last year. So being the wonderful companies that they are, have terrific compensation packages.”