Is an MBA a Waste of Money?


Recently, entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said, “(I) think an MBA is an absolute waste of money. If you have a hole in your knowledge base, there are a ton of online courses you can take. I don’t give any advantage to someone in hiring because they have an MBA.”

Wikipedia says Mr. Cuban is worth $2.3 billion. Obviously, he is a smart and successful guy. But my professional and educational experience leads me to respectfully, disagree, and also, agree.

Agree: An MBA doesn’t guarantee performance

Let’s admit it – we’ve all seen MBA graduates from great schools with amazing GPAs who just weren’t good at their job. And we’ve seen job posts that say “MBA required” when there are a lot of qualified candidates with no MBA who should be given a chance. (I have been one of those candidates and I appreciate Mr. Cuban’s open approach.)

The cache of MBA graduates is over-rated, and with the increase of free online courses and skyrocketing higher-education costs, many argue that any degree is over-rated. Some people have chops academically, but lack the talent or instinct to compete in the corporate “shark tank.” As someone who rose to executive management without the MBA, I admit that I resented the assumption that someone with a fancy degree would automatically perform better. I worked hard without having an MBA to my name to deliver what mattered – business results.

Disagree: An MBA is not an absolute waste of money

I never thought I’d get my MBA. I had gotten far as a marketer without it, and outperformed some (many) who had an MBA. But life is funny; case in point: I’m now in my second quarter of my MBA journey. As Mr. Cuban acknowledges, I recognized some holes in my knowledge base, and appreciated the need to get aggressive about learning in the digitally changing world.

So I sought out classes, and they led me to one of the few online MBA programs that includes a concentration in digital marketing. The program has great classes that I need – such as advanced web analytics – that are taught by leaders in my field. In order to take the courses I desired, I had to fulfill some course requirements first.

I’ve never been an academic. (In college, to avoid going to class I chose the option of on-site marketing internships that yielded course credits and hourly pay.) So naturally, I wasn’t 100 percent sure that I would be a fit for online academia. To find out, I relented to the annoying online curriculum requirements. I thought that was a good way to get acclimated after being out of academia for over 15 years.

As I started my first required course some of the requirements seemed irrelevant and I was initially less than enthused. But I was committed to this class so I forged ahead. Along the way, I tackled learning areas that I didn’t know were necessary experiences for me. I also got to deeply explore very relevant marketplace issues that I might not have explored otherwise. These included learning more about competing in the emerging market of China, the effects of Obamacare on business, and the lessons of HP’s board privacy leaks and board member turnovers. In addition, I learned that diverse skill levels and viewpoints yielded unexpected benefits in learning, and gave me experiences that I would not have had in the more narrow environment of my chosen field

What an MBA has to do with moms

Most women will tell you that there is a stigma to being a mom in the workplace. I have experienced this both as a mom and before I became a mom. Before I became a mom, managers thought they could gruel me with workload intensity and didn’t set those same expectations or give the same opportunities to the working moms. Ultimately, that made us all resentful.

I admit that when I told a former senior co-worker that I was getting my MBA, he said, “That’s stupid. Raise your kids and do your work.” But as a professional mom, I’ve learned that your biggest asset is what you know. My former co-worker’s opinion is not universally shared. In our global marketplace, management wants more than successes on a series of programs. They want broad competencies and skill sets. And yes, they want diverse assurances that the working mom has game.

So what’s the value of the MBA?

Mr. Cuban, I agree that an MBA does not trump a track record or talent. It doesn’t guarantee performance, and it’s not the primary criteria to hire. But it can enhance the ability of those who have talent. More importantly, it says that someone values learning and growing holistically. It is an indicator that they value the journey of intellectual growth more than salary or rank. And that’s why, if all else is equal, the avid learner with the advanced degree gets my vote.

Tell us – what do you think of Mr. Cuban’s remarks?



2 Responses to “Is an MBA a Waste of Money?”

  1. Here’s another reason to get a MBA: If you don’t have a background in business, but want to move into it. I majored in Communication in college, but a few years later decided I wanted to go into business. But I had never taken accounting, finance, and other business foundation skills, so going back to school to gain these skills made practical sense.

    Bicultural Mama
  2. I got an Executive MBA from SMU in Dallas a few years ago after working for 17 years. I learned a lot. However from a money spent or a ROI perspective it was a complete waste of money.

    I will not see a cent in extra earnings in my life because the college does not help EMBAs to find jobs. They help fulltime MBA students since those jobs are entry level. But if you’re thinking of going to school after work experience like I did, you couldn’t do worse if you buried that money in the ground.

    Even now, I am dependent on my contacts outside of the EMBA network to be able to get any movement in my career.


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