The world was a very different place in 2010. Barack Obama was the U.S. president. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan raged on. Economies around the world began clawing their way out of the Great Recession, but unemployment remained high and demand for goods and services low.
But while much has changed — and much that once was considered true about business, politics, and culture is now up for debate — one thing has remained steady from then to now: The value of a graduate business degree.
That’s the main takeaway from a massive new study released today (March 2) by the Graduate Management Admission Council, the global association of more than 200 leading graduate business schools which administer the Graduate Management Admission Test. From 2010 to 2021, GMAC followed the career paths of more than 3,600 graduate business candidates around the world, surveying them on why they were pursuing a business degree, then asked those same individuals after they graduated if their degree delivered as promised. The key finding: 9 out of 10 MBA or business master’s graduates say they experienced strong career advancement and personal growth on top of financial gains.
‘A RESOUNDING “YES!”‘
GMAC’S research has generally supported the sanguine analysis of graduate business education — even in the depth of the pre-Covid slump in MBA applications, it found cause for optimism in the data. In the pandemic years, its reports heralded rebounding interest in what business schools had to offer, though of course in briefer windows of study. This is not to say GMAC has downplayed challenges, particularly for women.
The new report is a much broader, longitudinal study — and its findings may be GMAC’s most cheerful yet. Surveying candidates from 113 countries on all six populated continents who attended 728 graduate business schools or universities across 66 countries, GMAC found most were “now reaping the rewards of their distinguished business degree in a wide array of job functions and industries.” Overall, 9 of 10 graduates rated the value of their MBA or business master’s degree as good, excellent, or outstanding; over 85% concluded that their investment in graduate business education had a positive return. Most (84%) reported that their B-school experience helped improve their professional situation, while about 7 in 10 reported that it helped achieve personal (72%) and financial goals (68%).
“In the face of an ever-evolving work environment, international travel restrictions, and rising education cost, many are asking the question: ‘Is a business degree worth it?’” says Sangeet Chowfla, president and CEO of GMAC, in a news release accompanying GMAC’s first-of-its-kind report, titled The Value of Graduate Management Education: From the Candidate’s Perspective. “Our groundbreaking research surveyed thousands of individuals from around the world, spanning from the last financial crisis to the current pandemic-prompted economic uncertainty. An overwhelming majority of them testified that their business degree increased their employability and earnings power, prepared them for leadership positions, and supported their desired lifestyle.
“Without a doubt, their answer to the question is a resounding ‘Yes!’”
FEWER WOMEN GO TO B-SCHOOL TO GAIN STARTUP SKILLS
From the report: “About two-thirds of B-school graduates reported that they advanced at least one job level after they obtained their graduate business degrees. A greater percentage of graduates who started at more junior levels reported job level advancement after they completed graduate management education (GME) than those who started at more senior levels. More than 85% of graduates moved up from entry levels, more than half moved up from middle levels, one-third of graduates moved up from senior levels, and a quarter moved up from executive levels. Of the approximately one-third of graduates that stayed at the same level or moved down at least one job level post-GME, over 60% of them switched industries, job functions, or both.”
While most of those surveyed agreed that a graduate business degree helped them achieve personal, professional, and financial goals, making for a positive ROI and impact on their lives, the picture is more complicated for one major population group: women, who comprised 40% of survey subjects. Though they mostly share the same view as men on the value of graduate management education and its impact on their career advancement — most women (77%) and men (72%) identified “increasing job opportunities” as a top driver — the greatest gender difference was observed when men (41%) were more likely to go to B-school to develop entrepreneurship skills and own their own business than women (28%).
“The findings suggest that in today’s evolving work environment, women — perhaps more risk-averse and resource-deprived — shy away from starting their own companies and choose to work closer to home,” says Maite Salazar, chief marketing officer of GMAC. “Understanding this dynamic could inform business schools on how to encourage more women to pursue graduate management education by providing them access to and addressing their challenges in entrepreneurship.”
Moreover, a greater percentage of men (56%) reported that their graduate business experience prepared them well for international employment opportunities compared to women (46%).