During the past twelve months, we have seen the economic mood in this country take a turn for the worse as a result of a recession and the tragic events of Sept. 11. As expected, the sluggish economy has brought a swift decline in both consumer confidence and corporate spending. It is no surprise that layoffs and downsizing continue to threaten job security.

While the current bleak economic climate may be the worst of it- with economic experts suggesting the markets will turn around by the end of this year -- many employees are still wary about their professional futures. Likewise, employers continue to be cautious as they monitor spending and tighten budgets. In light of such circumstances, potential MBA candidates may be wondering whether this is the right time to pursue an advanced degree. Actually, a slow economy presents the perfect motivation for continued learning.

No Time like the Present

A few years ago when the economy was booming, many employees enjoyed opportunities for substantial bonuses and promotions. Today, most people are thankful just to keep their jobs, let alone reap the significant dividends of the past. Because lucrative incentives are no longer the norm, there's no better time to earn an MBA and significantly increase the potential for securing a higher paying job or a more rewarding position.

"Earning an MBA in a slow economy helps individuals broaden their knowledge base and expand their horizons," says Peg Havens, director of commercial market management at Frontier Corporation in Rochester, New York. "It gives them the ability to move up the career path and obtain higher leadership positions."

When it's Time to Change

We live in a brave new world, and the changes we have seen on the global front have had a major impact on the international business community. Employees find themselves facing challenges they could never have anticipated. Many people are finding that an MBA program - whether full-time, part-time or executive- is an excellent way to help manage and capitalize on such change.

Consider the corporate executives who, being comfortable in their positions for many years, saw little need to prepare for the future by continuing their formal education. While the idea of retiring from such a company was once a realistic goal, rounds of recent layoffs mean many such executives will be forced to find new jobs. With more than 100,000 fresh MBA graduates entering the workforce each year, competition in this tight job market is fierce.

"Employers are aware of the capabilities that an MBA brings to the table, and that is why we're seeing more and more job requisitions that say 'MBA Preferred,'" says Havens, who earned her MBA in marketing from the William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of Rochester in 1989.

Making it Happen

Although many companies used to sponsor employees in an MBA program, the need to stay competitive has forced many businesses to cut tuition-reimbursement programs. Without funds from their employers, some MBA candidates are opting to sponsor themselves. These individuals want to improve their potential to lead an organization, and consider lifelong learning a critical piece of the career enhancement puzzle. Most students, whether full-time, part-time or executive, are able to fully fund their education through a combination of scholarship and loan programs.

That being said, many companies still realize the value of a well-educated workforce, especially during tougher times. They are often willing to lend support, if not in tuition dollars then in flexible hours or time away from the office. Some companies even reimburse tuition once the MBA is completed and an employee agrees to stay on for a designated amount of time.

The Bottom Line

An MBA gives individuals a tool kit of general management skills that lasts for a lifetime. This broad training transcends location, time and job type, and enhances current focus and specialization. "Schools like Simon offer a rigorous curriculum -- individuals that make it through such a program will be much more capable of bringing their strengths to the job market," says Havens. "When you combine an MBA degree with real experience in the business world, it's a dynamite combination."

With thanks to: Dawn McWilliams, William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration, University of Rochester (www.simon.rochester.edu)


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