Dear Joyce: Unfortunately, my company does not pay tuition for graduate study. I'm considering evening or weekend study to obtain my MBA. But holding down a full-time job while studying for a part-time degree is hardly a walk at the beach. How tough is it going to be, how expensive, which are the best schools and will it pay off with a better job? -- J.P.K.
Dear J.P.K.: The credential itself hasn't proven to be a pass to the executive suite. I'm unaware of hard data, but anecdotal comments suggest one-third to one-half of executive MBA graduates look for new jobs within a couple of years of graduation -- even when their companies foot the bill which, for top-rated EMBA programs, ranges from about $20,000 at outstanding state universities to nearly $60,000 at famous private universities.
The wandering grads say they move on because their sponsoring companies fail to reward them with promotions or greater responsibilities once they get their master's degree in business administration.
Loyalty? That seems to be a lost commitment. B-schools are worried about the issue, too, and may refuse to let sponsored executive MBA students use their placement offices.
If you're paying your own way, you may be able to get by on much cheaper tuition, say a total of $6,000 to $10,000 at less illustrious institutions. But be very aware of the outcome you hope for. Too many weekend or evening MBA programs are pale imitations of traditional full-time programs. Readers of this column sometimes write saying they regret not going to better schools, that despite their sacrifices to obtain an evening MBA no one is impressed by their lackluster degrees.
Expect to spend two to three years in an EMBA program, although it may be possible to take it slower over four or more years. The most academically rigorous programs require classroom attendance of perhaps eight hours weekly, plus another 15 to 25 hours of study.
The 20 top EMBA university programs, as defined by a Business Week magazine study, are Northwestern (Kellogg), Chicago, Pennsylvania (Wharton), Duke (Fuqua), UCLA (Anderson), Indiana, Columbia, Southern California, Georgia State, Case Western (Weatherhead), NYU (Stern), Illinois at Champaign, Purdue (Krannert), Pittsburgh (Katz), Emory, Texas at Austin, Wake Forest (Babcock), Vanderbilt (Owen), Southern Methodist (Cox) and Tulane (Freeman).
Suppose you're not fortunate enough to live near a top school or to work for a company paying the tuition. Follow the customary cautions for any substantial educational investment. Check with a few executive recruiters and local employers -- how valuable do they consider an advanced business degree from the university you're considering? If the EMBA program has too many adjunct professors with unimpressive academic credentials -- or the whole thing is obviously too easy -- keep looking even if you must drive much further to class. Or even consider distance learning with interactive computer study.
The best reason for killing yourself to get through a quality EMBA program is knowing you have sharpened skills and abilities that will make you a more valuable person in business and the confidence gained by that knowledge.