as Jim Fisk and Robert Barron suggest in The Official MBA Handbook, Master of Business Administration is "an acronym for several . . . related terms."

No graduate degree has taken more flak in recent years.

There was a time when an MBA from a highly touted 'B' school was a ticket to top salaries. But critics claim Mark Twain's formula for certain success -- "ignorance and confidence" -- is preferable to the curriculum of most MBA programs.

Much of the criticism stems from MBA overkill in the '70s: At the prospect of $30,000 starting salaries, applicants overran admissions offices. In 10 years, the number of MBA programs doubled, with some universities adding makeshift business schools to attract their share of the tuition income. Suddenly, more than 50,000 MBA degrees a year saturated the job market. By 1982, even cocktail chatter turned to "meaningless MBAs."

Fueling the crisis was the bad reputation MBA grads got for arrogance and an unwillingness to work in the trenches after leaving the ivory towers.

But there are signs of a B school recovery, says Steve Christakos, director of admissions at the University of Virginia's Colgate Darden Graduate School of Business. Many business schools are shoring up their programs.

"The saving grace for Virginia is our pragmatic way of doing things," he says. "We teach how to do business by actually doing business. We have students making the same kind of decisions that managers at Procter & Gamble were making last year. It's real-world training."

Statistics substantiate Christakos' claim. The median starting base salary so far for Darden's graduating MBAs is expected to be $39,000 -- up 8 percent from last year, says Karen Dowd, Darden's director of placement.

"In 1982, we saw a significant drop-off of recruiters here -- from 240 to 190," says Dowd. "It stayed at 190 until this year, when we increased to 210."

Christakos says the profile of B school students is changing, too.

"The average age of our students is 27. They're coming out of business and building on their careers -- real estate development, entrepreneurship and international business are the hot buttons now," says Christakos, adding that the notorious MBA arrogance has been replaced with a rolled-up-sleeves attitude. "Ninety-eight percent of our entering class last year had full-time work experience. They come with more specific goals . . . than they did five or 10 years ago." Other top B schools cite similar statistics. Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania and the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth College report that their grads' starting median salary is in the same range as Darden's, and Harvard Business School grads' is about $3,000 more.

Northwestern's Kellogg Graduate School of Management expects median starting base salary for its graduates to reach $39,000 this year -- up 11 percent from last year, says placement director Joyce L. Watts.

"The profile of our business students is settling down," says Watts. "Ninety percent have had previous full-time work experience. And they're maintaining a low arrogance level.

"I think most of the top business schools can pretty much say that," says Watts. "What happened to the MBA in the past 10 years is unique in education. Everything happened so quickly. MBAs got hot and so many programs hopped on the bandwagon.

"But those programs are going to fade away in the next five years. Only the best MBA programs are going to survive . . . " Write and Wrong

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