If you want to start an argument in a room full of businesspeople, try asking this question: is it worthwhile to get a master of business administration, or MBA? If you want to keep the argument going into the wee hours, add this twist: is it worth getting an MBA in technology management?
Opinions tend to be strong (and strongly divided) on whether investing time and money in a graduate business degree will lead to a speedy climb up the corporate ladder or just hefty student loan bills. The debate changes somewhat when the graduate business degree has a technology focus. IT workers who go back to school for business degrees already have highly marketable skills; the question is whether they can leverage their technology background into IT or management jobs with more responsibility and higher salaries.
According to the website The Best Degrees, they probably can. Using U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data from May 2010, the site recently ranked 51 degrees according to job prospects and salary, and an MBA in technology management came in first. Best Degrees contends that graduates of these programs are well positioned for jobs as computer and information systems managers, who earn a median annual salary of $115,780.
MBA grads may also improve their chances of moving higher, and faster, up the management chain. IT managers who hope to become IT directors or chief information officers may need an advanced degree to set them apart from the competition, which is likely to be fierce at the executive level. Consider also that IT and business are increasingly intertwined, and companies need leaders who understand the intricacies of both disciplines.
However, it's important to remember that MBAs in the IT field don't automatically lead to promotions and big pay raises. The business expertise MBAs gain may make them more marketable overall, but their knowledge and experience working with technology are at the core of their skill set. And it's this hard knowledge that may serve them best. Consider a recent survey by professional networking site Identified, which found that more CEOs had advanced engineering degrees than MBAs (the MBAs numbered 1,106 and the engineers numbered 3,337).
Depending on your career goals, another specialty within the IT field, such as computer science or information systems management, might be a more appropriate choice for a graduate degree. Of course, gaining equivalent professional experience is the safest route -- after all, you make money instead of spending it on tuition.
Those costs can be steep. According to Poets & Quants, a social networking site aimed at providing information for prospective MBAs, the total bill at top-ranked business schools is often north of $150,000. For example, Columbia University's program costs $168,307, and the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business is $165,190.
It's worth weighing the prestige and connections you're likely to gain at a top school versus the cost. U.S. News and World Report publishes a useful list of MBA programs that incur less student debt. At Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, for example, the average student debt was only $8,524.
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