Sunday, January 16, 2011

Executive MBA: Why I Chose Rutgers

This fall I'll begin the executive MBA program at Rutgers University in Newark. I've spent a lot of time considering several programs in the NY area, did a lot of web research, went to open houses, and so on.

My first question was whether to do an online or in person program. Both IE Business School (in Spain) and Thunderbird (in Arizona) have high ranking online programs, and their schools get into top five rankings (Wall Street Journal and Financial Times offer the two best ranking methodologies). But I ultimately decided that I wanted to have the in-person experience. Part of my reason for getting the MBA is to develop a local network, as well as more personal friends outside my immediate employer. For this I need the in-person touch.

One thing I've discovered: programs are priced relative to their "tiers" in terms of education and ranking. At the low end are smaller programs at places like Seton Hall and Montclair State College. These programs cost in the $40K range and take roughly two years to complete. The Rutgers program costs roughly $80,000 over two years. Other programs in that middle price range in the area include Babson in Boston, Rensellar in Albany, Fordham and Baruch in New York City, or Penn State (Smeal) in Philadelphia, all of which offer interesting programs with different focuses (Babson has an entrepreneurial focus; Rensselaer a technology focus; Rutgers has a strong program in finance and strategy). Then there are the "name" programs at the top end: Wharton, Columbia, and NYU. Also, Cornell's program, which is somewhat newer and has a management focus, hovers in between but is moving into this top tier. All of these programs cost around $140K or more (and $160K for Wharton).

Some people say "price should not be a factor," but it is to me - I'm an older student (I'll be over fifty once I graduate) and I'm paying almost all the way myself (as a majority of eMBA students now do). While I still think an EMBA investment is going to help my income in the long run, it's doubtful I'm going to move into a trading desk after graduation and make $300,000 a year, so a name degree isn't necessary. I'm doing it mainly because the material is relevant to my current job, it will give me the business background to make more strategic decisions, and it should, in some way, enhance my earning capabilities. I'm also doing it because - as someone who has been in a creative career all my life - I've developed a strong interest in business and finance lately, and want to have a good educational grounding and take myself in a new direction. As perhaps evidence of my newfound financial awareness, I also need to start watching our finances more carefully, and want to avoid taking on any more debt. 80K is my practical limit for that. If I were younger, however - had no debt and had more time to career hop and play the networking game - I would certainly entertain the name programs in the area, Columbia, NYU, and possibly Wharton. That's just not my situation. And some might argue that a program such as Rutgers' is just as good as these anyway.

At the same time, I feel I *do* need to go to at least a "second tier" program with a solid academic reputation and track record of delivering business leaders. For one, I'm a pretty good student (in fact, I teach digital marketing occasionally), and I want to feel like I'm around other leaders and strong students. The quality of the class is important. There also is a value I want to get out of the network of students and visiting and staff faculty I meet during the program. While I'm sure that colleges such as Seton Hall and Montclair State offer a solid curriculum, I'm afraid that personally, I'm just not going to get enough "bang" to make the $40K investment worthwhile.

That leaves the second tier for me. So why Rutgers over Babson, Rensselaer, Penn State, Fordham, and Baruch? Several reasons -

Convenience - Rutgers is only 15 minutes from my home. I've been told by several eMBA graduates not to underestimate the convenience factor. In many ways, it could be the factor that determines whether you complete the program or not.
Rankings - Penn State and Rutgers have both been in the top 25 Wall Street Journal list for over two years.
Return on Investment - Yes, this is a factor, and Rutgers is the only one of these to land in the Wall Street top 10.
Focus on Finance - Like NYU, Rutgers offers a first-rate finance curriculum, as well as a great overseas module in China, both of which are the type of focus I want from the MBA. (Finance may be less important to some people, but I feel I already have a pretty good background in entrepreneurship and is where I'm working now, and also where I need to learn the most).

Finally, more than anything, I have to say what won me over was the enthusiasm of the Rutgers students. Until I go to the program I think this will be a hard thing to completely grasp, but there was a quality to the students that is uniquely different: for one, they are all huge fans of the program. For another, they really seem to bond together (reminiscent of my experience in a fraternity). Clearly, the program can't lavish the same money on food and entertainment as one might get at these expensive programs, but there clearly is a feeling of bonding together as a group. I didn't get quite this same sense from the other schools I visited. It may not be why I looked for an eMBA program in the first place, but it's a quality that is certainly a benefit to have.

Now that I've made the decision, I'm looking forward to starting the program in the fall. I know it will be a ton of work, but I'm really looking forward to being challenged in this way again. I think, in some important way, it's going to help keep me from starting to feel like I'm getting old.