There is no good school in Metropolitan Washington at which to get an MBA - but don't quote me!"
This harsh opinion of graduate business education comes from an academic in the area who holds a Master of Business Administration degree from George Washington University and who is a former member of the Harvard Business School staff.
A considerable number of the deans, professors, students, alumni, corporate recruiters and executives interviewed in and out of the region share this view.
However, many of them also point to recent signs of improvement such as expansion of faculty research, more full time professors, tougher admission standards and graduate placement offices.
First the bad news:
No B-school in the District of Columbia, Maryland or Virginia was listed among the top 14 in the country from an academic view-point in a recent survey by MBA magazine. (No. 1: Standford)
No school in the three jurisdictions ranked among the top 35 in terms of faculty contributions to financial research, as measured by the length of articles in scholarly publications, according to the June 1977 Journal of Business, published by the University of Chicago. (No. 1: Chicago)
No B-schools in the area were reported in a 1976 MBA magazine survey to have MBA alumni with higher than average incomes 10 years after graduation. (No. 1: Harvard)
Only four regional universities, or 18 per cent, have MBA programs accredited by the American Assembly of Coolegiate Schools of Business, compared with a 23 per cent rate of all 561 AASB members. (Accredited: University of Maryland, University of Virginia, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, College of William and Mary)
Some of the possible explanations voiced include urban distractions, low endowments and faculty salaries, the generally undistinguished level of education here, the relative newness of the B-schools, government's small appreciation of MBAs and dilution of standards by outsiders.
C. Stewart Sheppard, dean of the Colgate Darden Graduate Scrool of Business Administration of the University of Virginia, cited the bulcolic setting of Charlottesville as conducive to the 60-80 hour work week MBA candidates are expected to put in there. Darden might well be called the Harvard of the South. For despite the omnipresent reminders of Thomas Jefferson, it is strikingly similar to the Ivy League Institution.
Founded in 1954, Darden's first dean was Charles C. Abbot, entirely educated at Harvard and a former finance professor there. Out of 55 active and emeriti faculty today, 21 received advance degrees from Harvard and 12 served on its faculty. Darden also emphasizes the case method, a generalist approach, permits deferred admission and is known for excellence in finance.
But there are significant differences: Virginia is cheaper than Harvard ($5,500 a year versus 781), and its faculty includes lecturers with only a Bachelor's degree who came directly from executive positions in industry.
Sheppard favors the bridge-to-the-real-world approach in the classrooms and in the coffers of his school. Some 40 per cent of Darden's $1.5 million budget comes from the private sector, a "substantial" portion of that from 286 corporate sponsors. In return, companies often are the subject of Darden's case studies, and their excutives may run the case in the classroom while recruiters are present to spot which standards produce the best response.
Virginians boast about Darden being the first graduate business school in the South. The double entendre is not altogether fortuitous. Tey in the MBA magazine poll, the University of North Caroline was rated first in the South-eastern region, followed by U.Va. Mention that survey and Sheppard fumes:
"I refused to sign that questionnaire.How can I rate a B-school in Alberta? I'm opposed to this irresponsible, top of the head method of establishing the ratings" (by polling deans). He proposes a method based on admissions standards, retention rate of students and faculty, starting salaries for graduates, and research output. In chort, he wants ratings containing yardsticks that corporate recruiters, not just other deans, might use.
At the same time, recognizing the impact of these ratings, Darden has been undergoing an academic soul searching during the past year to determine why it perenially does poorly, why it remains unranked nationally. Sheppard said a decision has been made to expand research - the published scientific papers that weigh most heavily in deans' ratings.
There was general agreement among all interviewed that U.Va. has the best graduate B-school in the Washington area. Peggy Eacho, of Potomac, said she never would have become president of a real estate development company at age 28, ahead of two male partners, were it not for the "pressure" she endured at Darden.
James W. Todd, MBA '64 and president of Gulf Reston, liked the case method "after being lectured at for two years in the Navy." He also liked the small class (his had 30) but that smallness also has draw-backs. (Darden, by the way, intends to expand its student body by a third, to 480, by the 1980s.)
Jacques Nordeman, a partner in a New York executive search firm, MBA Resources, said Virginia has an excelent reputation and its grads do as well as top grads of other firms, but their numbers are so small. About 4 per cent of the 6,000 names in his files are Darden alumni.
More 1977 U.Va. grads (16 per cent) accepted jobs in New York City than in previous years, a fact that helped boost the average starting salary for that Class to $19,700. By contrast, only 2 to 3 per cent went into the most lucrative field, consulting Burlington Industries, General Foods and Citibank each hired several. Still 40 per cent of the class took positions in the South. One alumnus remarked, "You don't make a name for yourself as a banker in Richmond."
David E. Morine, a vice president of Nature-Conservancy in Arlington, added, "Amherst (BA '66 in fine arts) taught me to think; Virginia (MBA '69) gave me the tools." Yet it didn't give him an entree to Arthur D. Litle, Inc., a Boston consulting firm. "They told me, 'We don't even interview people from Virginia; after all we've got the best B-school three miles down the road.'"
There seems far less agreement among those interviewed on which area school ranks second to Virginia. The MBA poil cited Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University just ahead of the University of Maryland, about half way down the list in its regional ratings.
Maryland has the only accredited MBA program in the immediate vicinity of Washington. Pat Stocker, Maryland MBA '76, who does public relations for the Denver Art Museum, chose to study at Maryland for that reason, as did her classmate, Helena Poist, marketing director for Pompeian, Inc., the Baltimore olive oil importer. Also, Poist didn't wish a case method school where, as she put it, "you don't get the benefits of a professor's expert knowledge because the student teaches himself."
Maryland does not require or permit and MBA candidate to write a thesis, but Poist denied that her alma mater's reputation for being an "easy" school is accurate.
William Mayer, Maryland MBA '67, mentioned another practical aspect. "When you are married and self supporting, as I was, that 10,000 difference (between public and private institution) is decisive." Now a vice president of the First Boston Corp., a New York securities firm, Mayer, 37, said a potential employee's alma mater carried very little weight in the hiring decision - the academic record and personally being equal to that of someone from a top school.
At the same time he admitted First Boston did not recruit on Maryland's campus because "only five out of 10 people we see will be familiar with the securities industry, whereas at Harvard, eight out of 10 will be."
Maryland's forte is organizational behavior and insudtrial relations. A 1974 Journal of Business survey placed the school eighth and tenth respectively for published institutional contributions to these flelds.
Without ranking of accreditation as a guide, how should the MBA program of George Washington University's School of Government and Business Administration be characterized? Herman S. Frey of Nashville, who claims to have claimed and/or taught at five area B-schools, received his MBA in 1956 from GW. For him, it is simply the best school locally.
Contrarily, David Morine observed that while he was getting a good education at Virginia his brother-in-law "didn't learn to think at GW. He learned some business jargon, but his instruction lacked intensity."
Eleanor G. May, associate professor of business administration at Darden, received her MBA in 1971 from GW by attending part time evening classes.She had transferred there from American University which did not offer a thesis. "I would have preferred a full time school," she recalled, "but at the time GW was the best one for me." Since then site has noted improvements in courses and in better trained full time professors of marketing.
The academic upgrading May cited poses a dilemma for GW. Its curriculum committee has recommended discontinuance of its large off-campus Master of Science in Administration because it is taught by largely part time faculty. Although its on-campus MBA program meets the 75 per cent full time faculty requirement for accreditation, the MSA program is preventing it, associate dean Henry R. Page explained.
On the surface, accreditation would appear an indisputable plus: it attracts not only better faculty and students, but also federal grants and research projects. Yet, it costs money and, in this case, perhaps students. By cutting out the MSA program, which is offered nights at the request of primarily for the employees of agencies like the Veterans Administration, the Pentagon and the General Accounting Office, GW stands to lose approximately 1 million in tuitions. Its 1,000 MSA candidates may switch to other area schools with part time programs or to outside universities operating here.
Upper Iowa, North Colorado and Central Michigan Universities and Virginia Polytech are some of those trying to tap the vast potential for business education here. Many of them charge half as much as GW's $105 per credit hour.