Decline of the MBA, Increase in Social Good?

In November, The Economist wrote an article predicting the decline of the MBA in 2010. It calls the MBA a mythical cupid attracting the nation’s best and brightest to a less than respectable academic discipline. “The decline of the MBA will cut off the supply of bullshit at its source,” the article reads.

The recession is pin-pointed as the catalyst for this change, as MBA graduates emerge with few opportunities and “nowhere exciting to go” for the second year running. After 2009, the banking rep is not all that it used to be– and five of the top ten best-performing American CEOs in 2009 didn’t have MBAs at all (including number one: Steve Jobs).

Harsh as these assessments may be, the decline of the MBA just makes sense. After all, the world continues to move. For about 20 years in American history, it was good to be a farmer. Then, it was good to work in the automotive industry. Then (and perhaps ending now), it was good to have an MBA. We’re all dreaming bigger, and even this progression outlines the American desire to climb the economic ladder.

So, I’ve been thinking: What if this decline is a good thing? What if it’s one of the best things for social change? I’m not a hater of the MBA. On the contrary, I’ve considered getting one and my own degree is in management. Nonetheless, here are five positive changes that may result as the status of the MBA declines:


1) We’ll need heightened creativity and community engagement in order to succeed.

We’ve learned that you don’t need an MBA to be successful in business. Our nation’s most successful entrepreneurs are known for thinking outside of the box, not for following a hierarchical system. If the MBA is no longer the passport to success, we’ll let our creative juices flow until the next thing arises. Great things could happen. But, as we watch Pepsi step back from fancy Super Bowl commericals in order to engage and support the community, and as the onset of the social media revolution has us building communities online, signs point to a possible continuing increase in community engagement.


2) There will be a re-vamp of the MBA program that may result in an emphasis in social good.

Business schools, like all schools, want to attract students in order to make money and continue growing their programs. If less people are becoming interested in an MBA, the programs will have to evolve in order to meet the changing needs of society (this is much like what is going on right now in museum studies graduate programs). MBA programs may incorporate more classes in law, policy, or social work– whatever it is that is trending and may make them successful. The result? More well-rounded (or perhaps more specialized) MBA candidates. The academic approach involved in the MBA will change– and if they follow current trends in corporate social responsibility and Gen Y’s desire to make a difference, these programs may focus increasingly on social good.


3) More left-brained thinkers will go into socially beneficial occupations.

As the Economist article states, there’s been a glamour associated with majoring in economics or business, and in obtaining an MBA. But with that glamour diminished, left-brained folks may not have such a clear path to success. In short, we may have more left-brained thinkers using their talents to cure cancer rather than trying to make Mr. Moneybags an extra couple thousand dollars on the trading floor (social vs. individual benefit). Also, we could really use more math and science teachers.


4) There will be attention given to other sectors.

Studies have shown that where Generation X dreamed of working for big businesses, members of Generation Y are flocking to Teach for America, the PeaceCorps, and jobs in the public sector. In fact, Generation Y is thought to distrust big businesses and they have been called a generation of civil servants. This fact, combined with the decrease in glamor associated with the MBA, may shift national focus to the many important jobs to be done in the public and nonprofit sectors.


5) A different bottom line may arise (or qualitative outputs will be more easily understood).

I’m not even going to hint that money doesn’t make the world go ’round in many ways but, if there’s an increasing focus on the public sector, there’ll be an increasing focus on program evaluation– and money may not be the most obvious bottom line for the average American. The public and private sector are struggling with regard to measuring social impact, and they are feeling the pressure to measure social benefit in some quantitative way. If there’s a shift toward social good, they’ll be more understanding of public and nonprofit sectors, and this public understanding will allow nonprofits to function more efficiently (it may be socially acceptable to pay nonprofit CEOs competitive salaries without high administration costs preventing them from obtaining grants). In short, the decline of the MBA will change the landscape of the private sector, and the landscape may become more leveled with public and nonprofit sectors. What we know of business– chasing money above all else and using it as the primary bottom line– may be challenged.

*Photo credits: Salvatore Vuono

Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Generation Y, Graduate school, Leadership, Management, Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Change, Social Media 3 Comments

About the author


MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore

3 Responses to Decline of the MBA, Increase in Social Good?

  1. Pingback: Weekend Reading: Education | Modite

  2. Richie Jobs

    Hello,I love reading through your blog, I wanted to leave a little comment to support you and wish you a good continuation. Wishing you the best of luck for all your blogging efforts.

  3. Krysta

    Colleen, I stumbled on your blog (thank God) and am feeling I have a kindred spirit on the Gen Y/MBA topic.

    I worked for an MBA program as the Assistant Director for three years. It was insanely frustrating and terrifying at the same time. I stayed because I thought I could change the way an age-old system thought about education (barring in mind the new generation of learners). As a Gen Yer myself, I attended conferences as the only administrator under the age of 45. I watched as top 20 programs talked about how they were adopting the “social entrepreneurship” concept. While I was thankful they had finally acknowledged our generation’s need to do good with our talents, I knew it wasn’t going to be sustainable because these programs didn’t inherently believe that MBA students should be focusing on social good. The point of their programs was to teach students to meet the bottom line and maintain ancient corporations. I’m grateful that you have articulated so clearly what has been jumbled in my brain for so long. Thank you!


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