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The EMBA Story

Posted on 25 February 2009

Are you ready to make an executive decision?

Choosing an executive MBA program is like picking a mutual fund. There are so many choices that you have the nagging feeling that maybe you’ll choose the wrong one. Where should you begin? First and foremost, know what you hope to accomplish with an EMBA. Then do your homework, familiarize yourself with program costs, course duration, and format. This will eventually add tremendous value to your career.

The Next Corporate Level
Why do you want an EMBA? The EMBA is probably most helpful to an up-and-coming, somewhat successful manager who positions himself or herself for a promotion into executive management. According to Kate Klepper, director of Working Professionals Programs at Northeastern University in Boston, EMBA students usually have distinguished careers in their particular fields. “As they look to move to a more strategic level in the organization,” she explains, “they seek the broader professional perspectives that EMBA programs can provide.” A review of the Business Week Top 20 EMBA programs shows that the typical program candidate at an elite school is a professional with 10 to 18 years of experience and an average salary between $75,000 and $150,000. In general, these are managers with successful track records and the organization is willing to make an investment in their future. If you fit that profile, an EMBA may be the ideal road to travel.

Many EMBA candidates are sponsored by their employers. Employers who pay for these programs, according to Klepper, recognize the potential of their managers and believe that potential can best be realized through an EMBA. Most often, this proves to be a prudent investment. Managers who undertake an EMBA do so to improve their potential for internal promotion–not to position themselves for an outside job.

Cost is a big issue if your company isn’t paying the bill.

Are These Programs Different?
EMBA programs come in all shapes and sizes, but with a few common features. First, they take only 12 to 24 months to complete. Second, programs are formatted to accommodate the schedules of professionals who cannot attend classes on a full-time basis. Third, courses are often discussion-oriented, focusing on the student’s professional experiences. Fourth, they are targeted to experienced and successful managers. And, perhaps most importantly, they are often more expensive than conventional, full-time MBA programs.

The program formats will vary significantly. You can choose one that meets in the evening, on Fridays, alternate weekends, or perhaps in a series of one- or two-week on-site residence periods. Others have limited residence periods, with most coursework done through distance learning. Format variations depend on the market served, available technology, and academic requirements.

It’s Not Cheap
Cost is a big issue if your company isn’t paying the bill. Among the best programs in the country, tuition ranges from just over $41,000 at Illinois University to $92,400 (ouch!) at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. EMBAs cost so much because they use a different pricing structure. These programs usually have one cost covering all expenses (such as room and board if there’s an on-site residency period), so it’s unfair to compare prices with a traditional MBA. Nevertheless, you can probably find less expensive programs closer to home. New Yorkers might look into the University of Bridgeport program, for example.

Sharon Klebe, the Stamford campus director for the University of Bridgeport, admits that many EMBA programs “have become quite pricy and employers are beginning to question the cost.” At Klebe’s school, the 12-month, alternate-weekend EMBA program costs only $12,000–the same as traditional MBA programs.

In addition to choices in duration and cost, you can also find EMBA programs specifically tailored to your industry. For example, the University of Tennessee offers a program designed for physicians; there’s a specialization in healthcare at Emory; and New York University has programs for both the technology and entertainment industries, with study in Palo Alto and Hollywood.

Hitting the Books in Barcelona
Many EMBA programs also add an international flavor. The University of Minnesota has program sites in Poland and Austria, with one opening soon in China. Not to be outdone, the University of Chicago is launching a globally integrated EMBA in the Windy City, Barcelona, and Singapore. As part of residency requirements, some EMBA course instruction is offered at international locations. Northeastern University, for example, has a three-week residency requirement–with one week spent at an international location. Nice gig if you can get it!

If your company is willing to foot the bill and you want to move into the executive management ranks, then an EMBA is worth looking into. Even if you have to pay some or all of the cost, an advanced degree is a great investment. It increases your knowledge base, enhances your skill set, opens you to new possibilities, and broadens your professional network. And, like a solid mutual fund, an EMBA will continue to pay dividends for years to come.

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