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MBA degree doesn’t always mean CEO position

“Is an undergraduate degree from an elite private college worth the cost?” On September 18, Carol Hymowitz, a weekly columnist for The Wall Street Journal, posed this question in an article titled “Any College Will Do.”

In her article, Hymowitz suggested that an education from a top school may not be worth the work and expense associated with it.

While admitting that a “college degree is a necessity,” she cited Thomas Neff, chairman of recruitment firm Spencer Stuart, who shifts the perspective.

“It’s what you’ve accomplished that matters, not what you were doing at 21,” Neff stated.

While recognizing Carnegie Mellon for its computer science graduates, Hymowitz called attention to where these graduates end up.

“[M]ost CEOs of the biggest corporations didn’t attend Ivy League or other highly selective colleges,” she stated. “They went to state universities, big and small, or to less-known private colleges.”

Some Carnegie Mellon students, faculty, and alumni stand in opposition to Hymowitz’s article.

Senior business major Anna Kao, with job offers from UBS and Citigroup, said the article does not deter her.
“I feel like if I didn’t come to CMU, my path would be way different and for the worse,” she said.

Charlotte Adler, who graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 1978, believes the article is skewed. Adler, who left IBM after 14 years on an executive track to start her own business, suspects that most top-school graduates do not stay in corporate America long enough to rise to the ranks of CEO.

“Most students from top schools like CMU are over-achievers. In order to rise in a large corporation, you have to wait and slowly step through the different levels,” she said.

Drawing on her experience in entrepreneurship, Adler offered a personal perspective on the business world.
“You work hard to build this company, but when you retire you get a handshake and a little bit of money,” she said. “With your own company, you get an asset.”

Arthur Boni, director of the Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship in the Tepper School of Business, believes that entrepreneurial spirit may be the very thing keeping Carnegie Mellon grads out of the corporate spotlight.

“I did my undergraduate study here, and the thing I learned was how to collaboratively solve problems,” he said. “That skill set lends itself to success in any field, especially entrepreneurship. It’s the Carnegie plan.”
Boni’s position on The Wall Street Journal article is similar to Adler’s. “The measure of business success is not being the CEO of a highly visible organization,” he said. “There is an entire economy out there with lots of leaders.”

The article does point out a similar reason for a lack of elite-school representation in corporate America.
Hymowitz suggests that one reason elite alumni are not CEOs is that they tend to choose positions in law firms or investment banks that enable them to earn large amounts of money very quickly and avoid entry-level management positions.

In opposition to this, Judith Mancusco from the Career Center said that most graduates typically filter into corporate America.

“We have a much higher number of successful grads. I challenge them to tell us they have more Nobel Prize winners,” she said, referring to the state schools that the article cites.

“Half of the CEOs that the article mentions went back to a top school to get their MBA. Those companies obviously recognize the value of a top-tier education,” she said.

In her conclusion, Hymowitz admits that approximately 65 percent of top CEOs have an advanced degree such as an MBA or a J.D.

Mancusco questioned the reporter’s intent.

“This could just be an attempt to get some press for lower-profile schools,” she said.

Last Tuesday, just one day after the article was printed, The Wall Street Journal released its business school rankings.

The rankings, based on “how recruiters rated each school,” placed Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper MBA program at number three. Among the list of top business schools accompanying the university were Dartmouth, Harvard, and Hymowitz’s alma mater: Columbia University.