Educators aren’t sure why, but they are seeing a surge in demand for master of business administration degrees.
The trend is occurring both in Eastern Washington and around the country.
At the same time, interest in becoming a lawyer appears to be waning.
“I think the MBA is going to experience a bright, bright future,” said professor Clarence Barnes, the dean of Gonzaga University’s business school.
In the late 1980s, the MBA degree lost some of its appeal in the midst of bond-trading scandals on Wall Street and concern that MBA graduates weren’t performing so well on the job.
Professor Elroy McDermott, the dean of business at Eastern Washington University, said the MBA degree was “overhyped” in the 1980s.
Nationally, the number of students earning graduate degrees in business has gone up nearly every year for the past quarter-century, but the recent upswing in enrollments still comes as a surprise, educators said.
Gonzaga and Washington State University both report 50 percent enrollment increases since 1991.
EWU saw a decline in its enrollments in 1992 and 1993, but an increase the past two years.
Administrators said they expect the trend to continue.
At the same time, there are apparently fewer people who want to be lawyers.
For the first time in several years, the number of applications to Gonzaga’s law school declined this year. The school received 1,735 applications, compared with 1,943 last year.
Still, the school expects no problem in filling about 200 seats available to first-year law students, said Dean John Clute.
Nationally, law school applications are down by 7 percent this year.
The legal profession seemed glamorous during the run of “L.A. Law” on TV. Now, the public is watching the O.J. Simpson spectacle, and the image of the legal profession is suffering, Clute said.
“It (the Simpson trial) certainly turns a lot of people off,” he said, adding there still are jobs out there for good lawyers.
Likewise, there appears to be plenty of jobs for MBA graduates.
Professor Val Miskin, dean of business at WSU, said MBAs are being hired for mid-level management positions now rather than upper-level jobs.
Businesses want managers with maturity and a broad view of how organizations operate, he said.
But some professors are concerned the job market remains soft for MBA graduates in Spokane and Eastern Washington, partly because employers here don’t appreciate the value of the degree, said EWU’s McDermott.
That will change as more businesses relocate to Spokane and local employers begin to see the advantages of the MBA degree, he said.
Both WSU and Gonzaga have rewritten their curricula to meet the needs of businesses today.
The schools are putting greater emphasis on communication, team building and decision making. For example, graduates learn the importance of giving employees a greater stake in the outcome of their jobs.
Students are studying the global marketplace and the use of new technologies.
Business experience also is being emphasized through internships and business projects. A lot of MBA students are taking classes part-time while working.
In recent years, businesses have sought to become more competitive by reducing employee costs.
As a result, companies are hiring fewer employees with bachelor’s degrees, said Milton Blood, managing director of the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business.
A bachelor’s degree offers strong technical skills, but doesn’t teach the dynamics of how large organizations operate.
The MBA degree is one way students can get those skills, and make themselves more competitive for the good-paying jobs that are available, he said. That may explain the renewed popularity of the master’s degree.
“The MBA degree is a very good degree to turn to,” Blood said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: MBAs on the rise