Is a Business Degree Worth It? Probably Not!

by Benjamin Miller

Is a business degree worth it? This question has become a topic of heated debate, particularly over the past decade. And rightfully so! As the landscape of education has shifted dramatically in recent years, so too has the perceived value of an expensive business degree.

With the Information Age came a democratization of education. That is, content that was once available only in the classroom has become easier (and cheaper) to obtain. Universities and business schools were once gatekeepers of “higher education.” But over the span of a few decades, the Internet largely crippled this paradigm.

And in the past couple years alone, global trends brought forth by automation and COVID-19 have only served to increase skepticism around the value of MBAs. You’re certainly not the first to wonder, “Is a business degree worth it?”

In this post, we’ll explore the current cost of business degrees, noteworthy trends in higher education, and perhaps most importantly, MBA alternatives worth your consideration.

Is a Business Degree Worth It? Let’s Start with Cost

No analysis on this topic is complete without first answering: How much does a business degree cost? From there, we can pick apart whether or not the price tag is justified.

While findings vary from study to study, it’s safe to expect to spend above six figures for a complete, two-year business program. All things considered, the most prestigious programs, like Harvard and Stanford, command an all-in cost well above $200k. As of 2020, most of the top business programs in the US broke the $200k mark.

Traditionally speaking, these programs carry the most prestige, supposedly delivering the highest return on investment. But keep in mind that it’s not “just” $200k for the degree – it’s also lost earnings due to the opportunity cost of not working for those two years. Factor in those two years for a well-established business professional earning a six-figure salary, and the cost of a business degree looks more like $400k+… not cheap!

It’s Getting Harder to Justify the Cost of a Business Degree

While sticker shock alone might make it difficult to justify business school, the doubters and skeptics have no shortage of other reasons starting with the curriculum.

For much of the 20th century, best business practices stayed relatively consistent. So, business schools settled into a lucrative business model: teach a core education that rarely changes, lean on the same textbooks, reward degrees, then rinse and repeat. Many schools that got a little too comfortable they’re now teaching business practices better suited for the previous decade, or better yet, the previous century.

If I tasked you with finding a textbook on business leadership during COVID-19, would you find anything good? Probably not. While a global pandemic is an anomaly of epic proportions, it serves a broader point: The world around us changes faster and less predictably than ever before, and education must become more nimble in order to keep up. Not to mention, for those considering a mid-pandemic MBA experience, a Zoom version of an already crippled education experience might not sound so great.

If A Business Degree Is Not Worth It, What’s the Answer?

The case against an MBA is stronger than ever. But of course, ambitious business leaders and professionals still crave education. Fortunately, education itself is not broken; rather it’s the institutions that have traditionally offered the best product that are struggling to adapt.

The key to a better system is an interactive, engaging, flipped-classroom experience. This is often referred to as “co-learning”, and it fills the huge void created by today’s business school shortcomings.

Co-learning takes attention away from lectures and textbooks, and instead focuses on collaboration, discussion, and immersive learning. Here are some examples of co-learning experiences:

• A multi-time startup founder leads a course on agile operations. Course participants are entrepreneurs hoping to learn from one another and ask specific, ad-hoc questions. The instructor shares her modern experience as an agile startup founder and encourages the class to implement course takeaways immediately within their own companies.

• A CMO leads a course on growth marketing and the curriculum revolves around a collaborative brainstorm in which participants develop and present their own ideas. The CMO offers constructive feedback and is available for office hours after the course.

Co-learning allows leaders to develop skills to use today. That’s why flexible, cohort-based business courses (or “mini MBAs”) offer an attractive “with-the-times” solution. And at a fraction of the cost of a two-year MBA program, it’s hard to argue against the value.

A Mini MBA Vs. A Business Degree

Fortunately for those considering business school, mini MBAs are increasing in popularity. Here are three from Forbes that might be worth your time. Coming in at number one is brunchwork’s Business Intensive course, which is highlighted below:

Business Intensive at a Glance

• Length: 2 months
• Format: Online and in-person
• Cost: Starting at $1,349

What You’ll Learn in Business Intensive

This two month program teaches eight core business skills via co-learning projects that put an extra emphasis on networking. Example projects include:

• Refining and testing a business concept
• Creating a high-caliber presentation
• Analyzing financial reports
• Developing a business strategy
• Crafting a marketing and sales plan
• Conducting user interviews
• Building a no code website

Weekly guest speakers include high profile business leaders, like former Presidential Candidate Andrew Yang, PayPal Founding COO David Sacks, Ellevest Cofounder and CEO Sallie Krawcheck, product gurus Gayle Laakmann McDowell and Jackie Bavaro, and Peloton Cofounder, Graham Stanton.

The Business Intensive course excels where traditional higher learning falls short. That means 100% active learning in order to build a holistic skillset fit for today’s evolving business world.