Column: ASU MBA just a flashy marketing ploy

Graham Place

In a bold move, Arizona State University announced Oct. 14 that their W. P. Carey School of Business will offer a full-time MBA program free of charge to many students thanks to the Forward Focus MBA Scholarship.

I’ll admit it, when I first heard about this program, I thought it was a big deal.

This column was originally pitched as “UA should be afraid after ASU announces free MBA.” After all, while both UA and ASU are offering a product with a $50,000 price tag, one school suddenly beginning to give that product away free of charge should cause some amount of panic among the school with the price tag still attached.

While this shift is a big deal and an important change in higher education, I no longer think our university should be concerned that ASU’s new program will decrease interest in the Eller College of Management or that it will steer strong potential students away from our own MBA program.

Jeffrey Schatzberg, the dean of Eller College , isn’t too worried either.

In an interview with the Arizona Daily Star he asserted, “I don’t expect to see an impact” when asked if the ASU program would affect the UA’s MBA program.

I’ve always wanted to go on to get an MBA after my undergraduate studies so that I could enter the business side of the engineering field I’m currently in. Naturally, the thought of a free MBA was intriguing. For a minute there, I thought I might cave and become a Sun Devil after four years (22, really) as a Wildcat.

And then I realized: paying for an MBA was never part of the plan. I expected to find a job that would pay for an MBA or get an assistantship at the university to fund my graduate studies. So why did the announcement last week cause me to suddenly forget my plan and consider pursuing the opportunity presented by ASU?

Probably because ASU has a great marketing team.

The so-called “Forward Focus” MBA program has a catchy name and alluring promises of launching meaningful careers in public service, the nonprofit sector or tech startups. The school marketed this program well, branding it as a fresh alternative to the traditional, overpriced and outdated MBA programs of other universities.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure if the program is anything more than just that: a costly marketing ploy. It fits nicely with ASU’s mission to provide education to as many students as possible, and the offer of a free MBA is exciting and welcome news as national discussion has turned to the constant inflation of the price of such programs.

But if the majority of MBA-seeking students don’t pay out of pocket for their master’s degree, is ASU really changing anything? Students there will go from not paying for their MBA to … not paying for their MBA. Offering a master’s degree that students don’t have to pay for isn’t exactly breaking new ground, though ASU would like the rest of the country to think that it is. They’re using donations and endowments to appear fresh and progressive, or as some might say: “Forward Focused.”

I tip my metaphorical hat to you, ASU, for good marketing and even better timing. But I question whether you’re actually trying to change higher education, or just trying to get your name in some good publicity.

So while I respect what you’ve accomplished with your announcement and new program, don’t expect to see an application with my name on it.


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