An MBA in 2009

March 23, 2009
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Back in the day, if you were after an MBA, your dream job was somewhere among the hustle and bustle of Wall Street. You didn’t have a college degree, after all, you had an MBA. Your life was pre-destined for high-pressure investment banks or brokerage houses, six-figure salaries, $300 lunches and a nice four-bedroom in the ’burbs.

My, how things have changed!

These days, a recession hangs over those dreams, and our first MBA president is back at his ranch re-acquainting himself with the private sector. Our new president — a non-MBA, interestingly enough — spends an inordinate amount of time on the airwaves telling us about the dire straits in which we now find ourselves, and the MBA degree you worked so hard to obtain now rests in the bottom drawer of your home office desk.

Unemployment is higher now than it has been in a long time, but who do we thank for that? Do we thank the seemingly all-knowing officials that represent us in Washington, or do we blame ourselves? The last time we were out of work, we decided to take the step toward an advanced degree, after all, and while it was fine then, its ability to hold the water it once did seems a bit flawed.

So what do we do now? The MBA is still a pretty decent degree, and for those who have it, there is still a certain amount of prestige attached to it — even if it doesn’t buy what it used to. But things aren’t what they once were.

OK, we could take up more schooling, but if an MBA won’t get you some love in a tough economy, how can you expect the pigeon-hole of a Ph.D. to be any better? Add to that the fact that there are enough Master’s holders to circle the world multiple times, and you have what may be the beginnings of our new national joke. (“Two MBA’s were sitting in a bar … have you heard this one?”)

Don’t misunderstand. Any college degree is a good one, and if you’ve actually taken the time for grad school, yea for you. But once you have it, what do you expect to do with it when no one is willing to pay the six figure salaries we used to see, and Wall Street is so deep in the fertilizer that it would take two MBA’s and a Ph.D. to pull it out?

The best answer — if there is such a thing — is to keep plugging at it. If you truly believe a Ph.D. is in your best interest in the long run, by all means, go for it. If, on the other hand, your MBA is plenty, find ways to put it to work. There are tons of volunteer organizations and nonprofits out there that would give their left arm for someone with an MBA, and for you, that still counts as experience. If that doesn’t do it for you, consider hanging up your own shingle. After all, you know what it takes to get a business off the ground. Just remember that when you finally decide it’s beer-30 at the local watering hole, try not to belly up to the bar next to another MBA, lest you hear this: “Two MBA’s were sitting at the bar … have you heard this one?”

Jim Idema, MBA
Grand Rapids

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