Want a job that matters? Don’t get an MBA

Business schools are struggling. Most employers no longer look for candidates with MBA degrees. MBA Enrollment among US students has declined since 2009. Current MBA Students are demanding more personalized experiences, including programming that blends purpose and profit. Business schools are being challenged from all sides. And their solution? Raise tuition… 

Business schools are losing relevance as the world of business changes. It’s time for something better.

But it didn’t always feel that way. When I was hired by Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland in 2013, my job was to help develop student programming focused on the emerging fields of social entrepreneurship, social enterprise, and impact investing. I had been an undergrad at the Smith School and was disappointed by the lack of opportunities to engage in these fields. Now I was getting paid to create the experiences I never had. It was exhilarating and I felt like I was on the cutting edge of business education.  

And in some ways, I was. At the time, many top business schools were investing more money and staff resources in “social impact” programs. These social impact programs were designed to attract thousands of idealistic millennials like myself who were pushing for more purpose-driven career paths. 

My team at the Center for Social Value Creation (CSVC) hosted events and managed programs that allowed students to explore and experience how business principles can be used to address poverty, economic development, and environmental sustainability. Students loved our programs and CSVC became one of the top reasons why prospective MBA students chose Smith over other business schools. But as I finished my first academic year at the Smith School, I noticed a concerning trend. The students who were most interested in our programs were not landing jobs in social enterprise, sustainability, or impact investing.

So, I went to the career services team and asked them why students who were passionate about social impact ended up accepting offers at Deloitte and Verizon. The career services team told me that they had strongly encouraged the students to take those offers. I was shocked. 

They explained to me that the salaries at bigger companies would help students pay off their student loans. Students would still learn a lot in a corporate setting, and, if they were really committed social impact careers, they could always make the transition after paying off their student debt. Oh, and one more thing. MBA starting salaries are a key factor in Business School ranking. 

Essentially, my team could develop amazing programming on how business can create a better world, but when it came to careers, students needed to be guided toward the corporate route. 

What felt like cutting edge business education now felt like a bait and switch. Over the next year, I watched several young professionals enroll in our MBA program because of the work my team was doing, and then slowly rationalize their way to a corporate career track that could pay down their debt faster. 

When I was hired by the Smith School of Business, my mission was to give students more opportunities to work in social enterprise and impact investing. After 2 years, it was clear that Smith was not going in that direction. So, I left.


 As I reflect on my experience, I honestly believe that most business schools, including the Smith School of Business, are doing their best to support the career goals of their students. But, the business school model is designed to help professionals get high-paying jobs, not more meaningful jobs.

The only way to justify a huge tuition is a huge payoff. A recent report by the Graduate Management Admission Council estimates that MBAs can earn $1 million more over the two decades following graduation than if they had not gone to Business school.

That’s a compelling value proposition if you are driven to make more money in your career. But, what if you are driven to make a greater impact with your career?

The 21st Century has brought with it a new generation of business professionals. These 21st century business professionals are using business as a tool to solve pressing global challenges, not as a tool to make as much money as possible. They expect a decent salary, but are driven by the mission of their work. They don’t fit into the business school model that is designed to simply maximize financial returns for both the school and student. 

And this new generation of business professionals will only continue to grow as more nonprofit and government professionals take an interest in learning how business fundamentals can impact their work. 

I believe there is a huge opportunity to serve the new generation of business professionals. That is why I am launching Mission Driven

Mission Driven will deliver online and blended-learning courses that teach professionals the business skills they need to create a better world. Mission Driven courses are short, practical experiences that teach business fundamentals like team management and sales within the context of impact industries such as social enterprise and impact investing. These courses are ideal for professionals in impact industries who want to advance their careers and have a greater impact through their work.

If you’re inspired by what business can do for the world, join the Mission Driven community by signing up for our monthly newsletter. We will share how business is creating a better world and opportunities to build the skills you need to lead a career that truly matters.