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Master's in management: The MBA alternative

MBA alternative

Master's in management programs may become an increasingly popular alternative to master's in business administration degrees, especially for liberal arts students who wish to parlay their passion for creativity into good-paying jobs or entrepreneurial ventures.

Master's in management degree programs are often accelerated nine- or 10-month programs that provide education in essential business fundamentals, including:

  • organizational awareness
  • critical thinking
  • economics
  • finance and accounting
  • leadership
  • communications
  • project management

These programs typically include a mentorship or internship component where students work with c-level executives to solve real-world business challenges and problems. An unlike MBA degree programs, which require several years of work experience for acceptance, master's in management programs are geared for students fresh out of college who lack work experience.

Arizona State University is starting its master's in management program in the fall semester of 2012. Amy Hillman, executive dean of ASU's W.P. Carey School of Business, says the university identified a number of trends that led to the creation of the program.

"We saw more and more inquiries for MBAs from students just coming out of their undergraduate studies and not having work experience, and the MBA really is based around sharing with fellow classmates your work experiences; that is weighted very heavily," Hillman says. "We also were seeing trends from the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) that there was a growing demand from people who are young and don't have work experience.

"At the same time, we are seeing employers who tell us they are interested in broad thinkers. We hear a lot from consulting firms that love liberal arts undergraduates, but they want them to have work experience, and they want them to understand how to read a balance sheet or know the fundamentals of marketing."

Enrollment spikes in management programs

Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. began its master's in management program in 2006 with 13 students. In the past two years, the number of students has increased to 96, say Hansford Johnson, director of graduate student affairs and Master of Arts in management program manager.

Wake Forest is a strong liberal arts college with a large student population of broad-thinking, creative and dynamic students, Johnson says -- but those students faced an uphill climb in a tough job market that often requires focused, analytical thinkers. The school started its 10-month management degree program to give liberal arts majors the business acumen they need to succeed.

"The beauty of a liberal arts education is that you are taught to think broadly and really think outside the box," Johnson says. "A lot of businesses are really driven by vision, strategy and innovation, and they already have that. You take right-brained students who are creative and artistic and mix them with a core of focused, analytical and strategic education, and you have the best of both worlds."

Cost and availability

Management degrees are especially popular in Europe, but many U.S. colleges and universities have added management degree programs to their course catalogues. American colleges that offer MiM degrees include:

  • Harvard University School Extension (Master of Liberal Arts with a concentration in management)
  • Pepperdine University (Master of Science in management and leadership)
  • University of Virginia (Master of Science in commerce)
  • University of Florida (Master of Science in management)
  • Kaplan University (Master of Science in management)
  • Barry University (Master of Science in management)

Many of these programs are not accelerated course offerings, however. Some, such as Kaplan, offer online programs for distance learners. There are many other universities that offer MiM programs as well.

Program costs often are on par with full-length MBA degree programs. ASU's nine-month MiM program costs $22,750 for in-state tuition, and $36,844 for out-of-state tuition. Wake Forest's MA program costs about $40,000. Some programs also offer students the option to transfer credits to a full MBA degree if they desire.

Ultimately, educators say, management degrees can position students to land jobs when competing with less-educated job seekers. Liberal arts grads also can use their business training for entrepreneurial ventures.

"It can help position those looking for a job better than just having an undergraduate degree, and another real benefit is that they can take their passion further," Hillman says. "If they are a dancer or music major and want to teach guitar or teach dance, they are going to know how to manage a business and make it profitable. It can help propel both types of students."