Is an online MBA worth it?
August 15, 2012 10:33 AM   Subscribe

I am thinking of pursuing an MBA in IT Management and have been accepted into an online program. But I've heard it said that if an MBA doesn't come from a top-25 or top-50 school, it may not even be worth having in the eyes of job recruiters and hiring managers. What's the real story?

I am a working professional in a non-management support position at a tech company. I also have some limited experience as a manager in a non-IT field. I have a bachelors degree in journalism.

The program I'm considering is through Western Governor's University, an online school that seems to have a good reputation and accreditations that match traditional grad schools. I like the flexibility of online classes and the opportunity to accelerate through the program and potentially finish sooner than 2 years.

And the price is quite attractive, at about $3200 per 6-month period. On top of that, my company reimburses tuition up to about $5000 per year. At most, the degree would cost me around $2000 out-of-pocket.

But even so, will the degree be as valuable as I think it might be and is it worth the effort? Is it likely to help me advance in the tech world and get into management, particularly in light of the fact that it wouldn't come from a well-known institution?
posted by iamisaid to Education (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
IMHO most MBAs are good for two things:

1. Getting you in the door at companies that won't hire you without one. Depending on the company the school reputation does make a big difference here. I have also noticed that online (and even evening) programs are given much less respect by those companies that care about the school you go to.

2. Networking with other students who will be good contacts throughout your career. This is, I imagine, much harder to do in an online program. And my guess also is that the caliber of the people you'd be networking with wouldn't be the same as at a top school. For example, at Harvard or Wharton, you'll likely be taking classes with future CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. I don't think that would probably be the case at a relatively unknown online program.

Given that, my opinion is that there's no way it's worth the money. You won't be getting either of the major benefits. But different people get different things from the programs, so I could be wrong.
posted by primethyme at 10:38 AM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

There's no way an online MBA is worth the money, even the $2k you'd pay out of pocket.

Is there not a brick-and-mortar institution nearby that you can attend?
posted by downing street memo at 10:39 AM on August 15, 2012


If you can do on-line, you can do an MBA program with students in a classroom nights and weekends.

There are tons of "Executive MBA" programs out there. If you feel that getting the paper will give you more insights and a better understanding of business as a whole, and your company will pay for all of it (as they will with a good state school program, but not an on-line program) then go for it.

There is no magic job fairy once you get your MBA. Recruiters do not come knocking on your door. And ESPECIALLY NOT in IT Management. The high caliber IT jobs come from certifications, PMP, Microsoft, CISCO, etc, and tons and tons of experience.

In the nineties, when I got my MBA, everyone and his brother was getting one. It made NO discernable impact on my career. What it did was add another tick box to my resume. Managers could feel .005% better about hiring me because of the MBA.

There is NO top tier on-line program. If you can't commit to a brick and mortar school (even if it meets at a local high school) then don't bother.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:39 AM on August 15, 2012

I would think not since you're in a non-IT position and don't have any experience in the field. And one of the important things about an MBA program is the networking you can do.
posted by discopolo at 10:39 AM on August 15, 2012

Unless someone said "hey, get this MBA and we'll give you a promotion and a raise," getting an online MBA is a waste of money. Most of the value of an MBA is the connections you make, and with an online one, you're not going to be reaping that benefit. Now, if the financial impact of spending two grand on an MBA means you're brown-bagging it for a while, there's a bit of room for discussion. If two grand is a significant hit (or god forbid you have to take a loan out), then it isn't worth it. At the end of the day, however, an online MBA from a school no one has heard of isn't worth it.
posted by griphus at 10:39 AM on August 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

(Also, if you ever encounter a hiring manager who actually knows how broken the MBA system is, "spent money on an online MBA" will be a pretty serious strike against you as a decision-maker.)
posted by griphus at 10:42 AM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I should clarify that I DO have several years experience in the tech field, just not in management positions. I work for a tech company right now. And as far as their tuition reimbursement policy, they do not differentiate between online or classroom programs - they reimburse up to the same $5k/yr regardless.
posted by iamisaid at 10:48 AM on August 15, 2012

Getting an MBA from a non top-tier school is of dubious benefit to your career, at best. However, what benefits are available will be much more likely to happen if you are there in person. Is there not a part-time evening / weekend program available nearby? That way, you'll at least be networking with other local like-minded professionals who may be in a position to help you some day.

My MBA was done at night, at a school that is always in the top 10 for part-time MBA programs. That and $3 will get me a cup of coffee at Starbucks. I'm smarter for having attended for sure, but I don't think had any measurable positive impact on my career. In fact, it may have been a negative. I had an opportunity to manage a Papa John's outlet when they were just starting out. Those stock options would have been very valuable with the eventual IPO. I thought the job was beneath me and passed.
posted by COD at 10:57 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's no way an online MBA is worth the money, even the $2k you'd pay out of pocket.

This is actually false. It may be true of a lot of online MBA programs (and I have no knowledge of the specific one that the OP has been accepted to), but there is real value in some online MBA programs. I know of at least one whose graduates tend to land higher-than-average salaries after graduation (although they can't advertise this for silly political reasons). It's worth noting that this particular program has a fair number of in-person residency courses that students can take if they feel that they won't get the full value out of doing a purely online degree.
posted by asnider at 10:58 AM on August 15, 2012

It seems like everyone these days views an MBA as simply a hoop you jump through to be eligible for a C-suite job. Since that is becoming less and less true, and reputation of school and networking are the two biggest benefits to getting an MBA, everyone seems to have forgotten the point of a master's degree: to learn something on and beyond your bachelor's degree.

So, assuming that you won't enjoy the benefits of a top tier school in terms of networking and job placement, consider what this online MBA program will offer you in terms of professional development. Look at the coursework and the syllabi for each class. Are you going to learn what you want to learn? Is $2000 out of pocket worth it for what you're expecting to learn? If so, go right ahead. Heed everyone's warnings above, but don't totally blow off the actual learning you're apt to do for an MBA, online or not. That could be worth $2000.
posted by juniperesque at 11:05 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm an MBA who hires other MBAs. My opinion is that an online MBA is not worth it. One of my staff members wanted to use her tuition assistance money toward an online MBA. I strongly advised her to not waste her money and energy.

I have a friend in a leadership role at Western Governors. WGU is no degree mill and they aren't there to make a profit off high enrollment. They are doing online education in a really student centered way. If you just wanted to learn business skills, WGU would get the job done for you. However, it doesn't have the brand equity to assist you in your career.
posted by 26.2 at 11:06 AM on August 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Thanks for the responses; they are definitely giving me pause, as I was thinking of jumping into this program fairly soon. Also, since some have mentioned not know anything about the program, it might have helped if I linked to it.

Maybe I am better off doing an evening MBA program or looking into certifications.
posted by iamisaid at 11:37 AM on August 15, 2012

And as 26.2 points out, the school is non-profit, which is one thing that did make me feel better about them compared to other online MBA options.
posted by iamisaid at 11:39 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know much about purely online courses, but there are courses from reputable schools where there is a mix of offsite and onsite work, and some of those are very well regarded.

A lot depends on your goals. If you're looking to get into the big name consultancy firms or the like, you'll be much better off going for a top tier school.

If you're looking to just learn business and management skills, and progress where you are, you might do nearly as well going for a local school without the brand name. I guess online would be on a par with a local school in terms of how it will be received.

Also doing any MBA at all does tend to be taken as evidence that you're ambitious, hardworking, interested in business etc. Especially if your coursework is going to include doing projects in your company which can help you get seen there as someone with management potential, where before you were in the background and just another guy on the team.

Personally I find it hard to imagine a person without an IT background working in IT management though, so you might want to think about what skills you'll need, and whether this specialization is the right one for you.
posted by philipy at 11:49 AM on August 15, 2012

@philipy I've mentioned in several places that I do have an IT background, primarily in tech support. I also have management experience that is not in IT. Thus, I am seeking to combine the two and move into IT management.
posted by iamisaid at 11:55 AM on August 15, 2012

It only makes sense if your current employer has a defined promotion for you when you graduate.
posted by dgran at 11:57 AM on August 15, 2012

I've mentioned in several places

Sorry, I didn't read your comments in thread, just the question.

But while you're learning management skills, you just took someone that was trying to help you, and who doesn't have to, and rubbed them up the wrong way.

A lot of management is interpersonal skills, and on a serious note, I'm not sure how you learn those online. That's not something even face-to-face programs usually do well.
posted by philipy at 12:09 PM on August 15, 2012

@philipy My apologies, no snark intended. I thought it was clear from the question itself: "I am a working professional in a non-management support position at a tech company." But it seems my wording was, in fact, unclear to you and others. Thanks for pointing that out.
posted by iamisaid at 12:18 PM on August 15, 2012

I should clarify that I DO have several years experience in the tech field, just not in management positions.
Start talking to your current management about moving in to a management role yourself. If they aren't supportive, look for a company and hiring manager that will support your career development goals.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:31 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Interestingly enough, there was NO management of people component in my MBA program. I'm not even sure what would differentiate an "IT Management" MBA from any other kind.

My MBA was a survey of all business topics, Cost Accounting, Organizational Management, Total Quality Management (so showing my age with that one), Finance, Economics, Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Statistics, etc.

Seriously, you'll get WAY farther with a PMP, and if you're spending your company's dough, that's the best money you'll spend. Not that it's easy, it isn't but THAT'S the credential that opens doors and adds zeros to your paycheck.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:13 PM on August 15, 2012

Seconding what 26.2 says about WGU. It's a fine institution and the online programs are substantial, and yet an MBA from there will deliver zero in terms of cachet.

My impression from my own hiring days (which admittedly are a few years back) in universities, and from what my husband says about his hiring in a tech research institution is that your time and money would be better spent, in terms of employability, on specific tech training and certifications than on anything but a shiny name-brand MBA.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:59 PM on August 15, 2012

I am a software engineering manager -- I've been in management since the late 80's and I got my MBA in 2008. I'm currently a VP of engineering.

I think that to get into management, as a first level manager, demonstrated team leadership is most important. I don't think a MBA program is going to help you learn leadership skills, although a lot of the work is done in teams. But leading geeks is a lot different than leading fellow MBA students :).

If you are in management and would like to expand to a director or VP or CIO position, then I think that having a MBA can help "tick the box". I got my MBA because my company was willing to pay for the program. I had also found that when I switched companies, I got pigeonholed due to my previous job title, even though I had far broader responsibilities. An MBA is a body of knowledge (especially financial and marketing) that typically IT managers are not exposed to.
posted by elmay at 4:10 PM on August 15, 2012

I would think for a Management position at most companies a bachelors in it managment would be fine.

I have a bachelors in management of technology and had no trouble getting a job. getting the 4 year degree and 2 years of experience is much better then 6 year degree and no experience.

I say do a bachelors degree and go from there. A masters degree in IT is one of those degrees that can potentially make you unemployable to a lot of small to medium companies. They wil lsee you as too expensive to hire.

do the bachelors degree. I got my decent paying (65k a year and a pension) IT admin job with just my bachelors degree.
posted by majortom1981 at 5:37 AM on August 16, 2012

Oh since you want to go into IT tech it might be better to go the - > associates of Network admin -. transfer into bachelors of management or it managment after you get your associates. If you have no IT knowledge this will give you the tech knowledge that a straight bachelors or masters of IT management might not give you. Most management degrees tech or otherwise are mainly business classes and not it classes.
posted by majortom1981 at 5:39 AM on August 16, 2012

From personal experience I can say that some employers want to see a Masters degree in order to promote an employee to management. It was put to simple as that at my current job. If I ever want to get into a management position I need to have that degree. It doesn't mean that I will definitely get a management position, but I am more likely to get one with a Masters degree.
posted by eatcake at 6:38 AM on August 16, 2012

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