A Free MBA for Unemployed Execs

How’s this for a post-recession special?

A Chicago-based business school is now offering 50 full scholarships to business professionals who have been laid off from their jobs in the past 18 months due to the economy.

The unusual offer by Lake Forest Graduate School of Management to essentially get a free MBA degree is an ingenious marketing ploy by an unranked school in a highly competitive market.

“What’s the catch?” asks John Popoli, president and CEO of the school, in a video announcing the contest. “There is no catch. This is a win-win.”

As the school notes, “Unemployment is lingering well beyond expert economists’ predictions. Smart ambitious people who have so much to offer our community are at a standstill. We believe that this scholarship initiative is the right thing to do for business leaders who have been affected by the economic downturn, and for our community.”

To win one of the 50 “renewable” scholarships, the school is requiring that contestants write a 750-word essay that answers the following question: “How a Lake Forest MBA will benefit my career, my future employer, and my community.” The deadline for the contest is April 30th.

Entrants must be 28 years of age or older and also must meet the school’s admission requirements to gain entry into the program. The scholarships are valued at $2,880 per course for a total value of up to $46,080. The deal is available only to Chicago-area business professionals who lost their jobs after Oct. 31, 2009, due to the recession.

The school said contestants also must have four or more years of professional work experience and must currently be seeking full-time employment. They cannot earn more than $3,000 of gross income per month. If a person was fired for cause or voluntarily left their place of employment, they are not eligible for the contest.

The Lake Forest program is not competitive with either the University of Chicago’s Booth School or Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, two world-class, premier business schools in the Chicago area. Lake Forest, for example, has what it calls “a 100% practitioner faculty” of executives teaching business courses. It also does not require an entrance exam, such as a GMAT or a GRE for applicants.

Though the school does not have an Executive MBA program, Lake Forest offers enough flexibility to allow students to attend classes on week nights or on Saturdays. Students can complete the degree in two years or take as long as four.