The luster appears to be wearing off the glamour business degree of the last decade, the Master of Business Administration.

Especially if the MBA is earned at a university not recognized as one of the top 10 business colleges in the country.

Despite the devaluation of the MBA, it's still a degree that opens doors to advancement.

The Washington area has never been renowned for the quality of its business schools. But the strong interest in the MBA programs nationwide has given local universities a shot in the arm in the form of higher enrollment.

The gradual devaluation of the MBA results from a combination of factors. The recession, which is lasting far longer and plunging deeper into the economy than most expected, is taking its toll on the number of MBAs hired by corporations. Companies are delaying hiring decisions as long as possible and hiring only the best applicants.

"I think a lot of corporations are taking a second look at the MBA," said Victor Lindquist of the Northwestern Endicott Report, a publication that monitors business recruiting and salaries.

"A major office copy equipment firm in 1981 hired 130 MBAs; in 1982 it hired 70 and in '83 plans to hire about 30," said Lindquist, who also is the director of placement at Northwestern University. "Some of the firms around the country that are heavy in MBA recruiting are beginning to reasses the value of the degree."

Corporations are reevaluating the worth of hiring an MBA versus someone with a bachelors degree in a business-related major and then providing on-the-job training and education.

"One bank in Chicago knocked off about 90 percent of its MBA recruiting because of the success of hiring bachelor's graduates and training them," Lindquist said.

"They feel it is a better return on their investment," said Lindquist. "Generally, there is a 40 percent spread in salaries between the bachelor's and the MBA. They couldn't see any substantial difference in the graduates and the undergraduates after a three-year period. There was a lower turnover, employe moral was better or higher, and they felt it was more effective for them."

But Al Hegyi, president of the MBA Executive Association, said he believes society is just beginning to recognize the value of an advanced business degree as a means to help optimize utilization of the nation's resources. And as this value becomes more recognized, he said, the need for MBAs will continue to grow at a rapid rate.

People with MBA degrees are those who can best "adapt to change, use the technologies available and deal with the basic problems society faces," Hegyi said. "They relate to the bottom line of society, the values of society."

Despite the huge number of MBA job-seekers, which is beginning to push down average starting salaries for business-degree holders, an expected leveling off of MBA graduates has not occurred.

There were 58,018 MBA degrees awarded nationally in 1981, an increase of 52 percent over 1972. Although complete figures are not available, an estimated 13,100 MBAs were awarded to women in 1981. In 1980, there were 55,148, (12,031 women) MBA graduates, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. In 1972, 30,433 MBA degrees were granted, with only 1,201 going to women, the center said. The number of business-related bachelor's degrees awarded in 1981 was 200,876.

But despite the large increase in the number of MBA graduates in the last 10 years, Hegyi said that for two reasons, the market for them is not glutted. First, tremendous growth in the economy during the last decade required an increase in the number of MBAs to fill available jobs. Second, Hegyi said, most of the increase in MBA enrollments has been people already employed who are returning to school seeking to advance their careers.

George Washington University gained accreditation from the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business last May and graduated 503 MBA students in 1982, by far the most in the region.

Since 1980, five more area business schools have been accredited by AACSB. Graduates of AACSB accredited business schools are able to command a better position in the market place and accreditation also enhances a school's ability to gain grants from private business and government.

The MBA is still one of the best passports to mobility in business and government and average starting salaries commanded by advanced business degree holders remain attractive.

"Some articles I have read say the MBA is oversold, but this is not borne out by the recruiting process. The corporations are still looking," said Dean Sterling Ivison of the Kogod College of Business Administration at American University.

The average starting salary for an engineer graduating this year with a master's degree was $28,188. The MBA with a technical undergraduate degree (science, engineering) averaged $26,580, while an MBA with a business or liberal arts undergraduate degree averaged $25,788.

The difference in starting salaries favoring MBAs with technical backgrounds is linked to the high demand for engineers and graduates in mathematics, computer sciences and statistics. The Endicott Report had predicted a 10 percent increase in demand for technical MBAs in 1982, but now says that business hiring already has exceeded this. Meanwhile, the supply of MBAs with nontechnical undergraduate backgrounds exceeds demand by 10 percent.

The Washington region has nine schools accredited by the AACSB: GW, Howard, William and Mary, University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University, Old Dominion University, University of Richmond, and the University of Maryland.

The key to getting the high-paying jobs after graduating from an MBA program lies more than ever in the name of the school.

"The good schools are still going to have a good recruiting schedule and good jobs," Lindquist said. "The second tier will have far more competition and more dissappointment in the future. The hoped-for fast track to the executive suite is just not going to be there."

While administrators from local business colleges said none of their schools' overall programs here rank with the Stanfords, Harvards and Whartons, they maintained that some of the individual programs offered within the MBA curriculum are of very high quality.

George Washington officials said their finance and international finance areas of emphasis have gained national recognition, with graduates finding jobs in major banks in New York and Washington.

American University also is receiving attention from the large New York banks and conceivably could gain more if the university moves ahead with plans to apply for AACSB accreditation.

The average student in MBA programs tends to be older and many are working full-time while completing their degree program at night, school officials say. At George Washington, the average age for the 1981 class was 27 years, with 44 percent of the new students women. Approximately 60 percent of the 1,533 enrollees had backgrounds other than business.

"The kind of students coming in are a little more mature because of the demographics of the Washington area," said John Lobuts, assistant dean for the graduate programs at George Washington. "Sixty percent are part-time students who are gainfully employed. Mobility upward is the main motivation as well as career changes."

Here is a list of Washington-region universities offering MBA programs and the number of 1981 graduates:

Washington: American University, 76; Catholic University, 8; Gallaudet, 2; Georgetown, 31; George Washington, 543; Howard, 25; Southeastern University, 198; Trinity College, 4; UDC, 32.

Virginia: William and Mary, 96; George Mason, 57; James Madison, 42; Lynchburg, 50; Old Dominion, 45; Richmond, 41; Virginia, 167; Virginia Commenwealth, 114; Virginia Tech, 140; Virginia State, 11.

Maryland: Frostburg State College, 90; Hood College, 11; Johns Hopkins, 101; Loyola, 212; Morgan State, 68; Mount St. Mary's, 38; University of Baltimore, 112; Maryland, 119.

And estimated 1982 undergraduate and graduate enrollments for business colleges at selected area universities included:

Southeastern, 1,130 undergrad, 465 Masters of Business and Public Administration; GW, 1,100 undergrad, 1,533 MBA; Maryland, 1,881 undergrad, 500 MBA; Virginia, 625 undergrad, 444 MBA; Virginia Tech, 3,900 undergrad, 474 MBA; George Mason, 3,563 undergrad, 437 MBA.