Various studies have shown an investment in an MBA pays for itself through promotions and higher wages. Photo: James Davies
The start of the first university semester each year always prompts me to consider part-time study. That is, until the shock of course costs and the time required. Has postgraduate business education become too expensive, and is the best of it out of reach for most business owners and managers?
The Melbourne Business School Executive Master of Business Administration (MBA), for example, costs $90,000 plus travel expenses for its international module. The University of Sydney’s Global Executive MBA, which looks terrific, also costs $90,000 plus another estimated $20,000 in travel costs.
Yes, these are world-class business programs from world-class universities. But even business postgraduate subjects at second- and third-tier universities cost $2500-$5000, depending on the course. A $30-40,000 commitment for a 12-subject program is fairly common.
That’s a huge investment for small business owners who, like me, appreciate the value of lifelong learning and expanding their networking through part-time university education. Then there’s the time investment for part-time study – one or two days a week - which is not easy when running a business.
I don’t know too many business owners who can invest $30,000, let alone $100,000, in their education, or are prepared to take a huge student loan that takes years to pay off. That’s assuming they have enough time for such study in the first place.
Even successful corporate managers – and their employers – must baulk at the idea of racking up $100,000 in debt for an MBA that offers increasingly less face-to-face time with lecturers.
What’s your view?
- Is postgraduate business education becoming too expensive?
- Is it worth the cost?
- Do you get tired of all the ad-on costs (ie overpriced textbooks)?
- Did your postgraduate business course lead to a promotion or other business success?
These are hard questions to answer from a statistical perspective. Various studies have shown an investment in an MBA pays for itself through promotions and higher wages.
I struggled to find information on long-term trends in the cost of postgraduate business education in Australia. I’m sure it exists, but with so many courses chopping and changing over the years, and other courses introduced, it was hard to compare course costs over long periods, or with other courses.
Some trends were obvious: more business Master’s programs shrinking from 16 to 12 or even eight courses (a shame, in my view) and a higher proportion of online or self-directed learning (another shame, if it leads to less classroom time and interaction with lecturers and between students).
Some universities could argue that $20,000 for an eight-subject Master’s degree is more than reasonable; perhaps they have a point, depending on teaching quality and course content. That is arguably a small investment if it leads to significant career or business success.
But one can’t help think the gap between the top postgraduate business courses and the rest will widen further in coming years. A handful of world-class Australian business schools charging well into six figures for their tuition (after add-ons) and the rest scaling their postgraduate business courses back to 12 or eight subjects, teaching more of them online, and charging less overall as a result.
And more second-tier postgraduate business courses dying as the trend towards free or low-cost massive open online courses in business accelerates the rationalisation of an overcrowded sector, and as universities downgrade the value of their Masters’ qualifications by reducing the subjects offered.
Do eight subjects really make you a “Master” of anything? And which subjects are being dropped: the tough ones, such as business statistics, which used to be a pre-requisite in many courses, but are often a turn-off for many prospective students?
As an aside, I can’t see the logic in having so many universities offer so many postgraduate business courses. Surely it makes sense to aggregate more of the best researchers and teachers to provide fewer, higher-quality business programs in Australia.
If postgraduate business programs become too expensive, more Australians will take advantage of our currency’s persistent strength and choose overseas universities for postgraduate education. Greater online learning, shorter classroom modules and subjects offered in multiple locations will make offshore study more feasible.
I hope Australian postgraduate business courses do not follow the path of private school fees, which seem to rise 5-6 per cent a year – well in excess of inflation and often with scant explanation to stakeholders (parents whose children attend the school). But that’s another story.