Fewer Firms Foot The EMBA Bill

The number of companies that are footing the entire bill for employees in Executive MBA programs continued to decline last year, falling to a new low of 27%, according to a recent survey by the Executive MBA Council. Four years earlier, 34% of the surveyed students reported getting full financial sponsorship from their employers.

Not surprisingly, the survey found, more and more EMBA students are paying the entire cost of the education. Last year, 37% of students in these programs paid out of their own pockets, up from 33% in 2007.

Nearly 290 member programs participated in the council’s 2011 Membership Program survey. Here are some of the other findings:

Caliber of Students

  • The average years of managerial experience is up slightly – 8.5 years in 2011, 8.3 in 2007.
  • The average years of work experience is 13.3 in 2011, a slight uptick from 13 in 2007.
  • The average GPA remains constant at 3.2.

Program Structure

  • Average program length continues to be 20 months.
  • The average class size is 42, up from 40 in 2007.
  • In 2011, 66 percent of programs required an international trip, compared with 58 percent in 2007. China continues to be the most popular destination. The number of trips to Turkey and Chile quadrupled.
  • While the percentage of program content delivered online has remained constant (7 percent in 2011), the method of delivery has changed. Programs providing online content are increasing their asynchronous delivery.  

General Information

  • The average age of students has increased slightly. In 2011, the average age is 37.1, compared with 36.5 in 2007.
  • The percentage of female students in EMBA programs declined from 27 percent in 2007 to 25 percent in 2011.
  • Total program cost has increased 23 percent in five years. Average tuition is $73,217. In 2007, average tuition was $59,648. The tuition increase from 2010 was 5 percent.
  • Programs are increasing their emphasis on alumni outreach through hosting alumni events; using social networking to connect former students; leveraging or founding alumni committees or boards; and expanding alumni career services.

Tuition Reimbursement

  • The percentage of students receiving full financial sponsorship from employers has declined from 34 percent in 2007 to 27 percent in 2011.
  • Thirty-six (36) percent of students receive partial reimbursement, up from 34 percent in 2007.
  • Thirty-seven (37) percent of students in 2011 are fully self-sponsored, up from 33 percent in 2007.
  • Anonymous

    This article describes our observations at Johnson at Cornell University quite accurately regarding sponsorship for Executive MBA participants.

    With the start of the new year I find myself speaking with many managers and professionals interested in Executive MBA programs. A common topic for discussion and advice is how to secure corporate financial support. With this in mind as a backdrop, here are four pieces of advice for EMBA applicants as you look for financial support from your employer:

    1. You can start at the HR Department, but don’t end there!

    For many managers it is instinctive to start the search for financial support by inquiring with HR about existing policies to support employees in EMBA programs. It is worth asking, but be prepared to be
    disappointed. A very tiny proportion of employers have pre-existing policies or programs to support managers in EMBAs. There may be some general education support plan (e.g., ~$5,000 per year for study in many different topics), but it is a rare exception these days that HR departments have detailed managerial
    development plans that include encouragement and financial support for enrollment in an EMBA.

    I have spoken with the HR departments at many of the employers of our EMBA participants who have received full financial support. Ironically, the most common position of the HR staff is that they are unaware
    of any employees receiving such support. That common situation leads me to my next bits of advice.

    2. Craft a unique case for sponsorship.

    If you can’t count on any off-the-shelf support program from your employer (and you can’t), then don’t give up. Instead, craft a compelling argument why your employer would benefit from the enhanced and broadened skill set you will develop through an EMBA. To help applicants, Cornell has developed a document called, “The Case for Sponsorship.”

    This document outlines ten reasons why an employer should sponsor a manager in an Executive MBA program. Of course, the combination of your role, your employer, and your industry means that there is no generic format or argument for this case: you have to make it your own.

    If you are wondering about the format for such a case or document, my advice is to apply the same format used for any proposed capital investment project at your firm. It is particularly useful to use the same
    metrics with which senior management at your employer is already familiar using to assess capital investments. If that means developing a model for future financial benefits and conducting analyses such as net present value, internal rate of return, or payback, then use those tools to analyze your firm’s
    investment in the intellectual capital that is the result of a great EMBA program.

    3. Present your case to a real decision-maker.

    After carefully composing your case for sponsorship, take that pitch to your boss, or your boss’s boss. In other words, make your case to someone who has the budget authority to make a $100K+ capital investment if the numbers are compelling and believable. It is unlikely this is a staff member in HR so start thinking early in this process about the right person you need to approach and win over.

    4. Retention contract? Where do I sign?

    Sometimes, applicants are worried that financial support from an employer comes with too many strings attached. For example, a manager might be presented with a retention contract that requires him or her to remain at the firm for the next X number of years. My advice is not to be concerned or afraid of such a contract for several reasons. First, even talking about this topic is a good sign as it means your case for sponsorship looks appealing.

    Second, this discussion opens the door to negotiating how you will be developed and advanced by your firm. You can make the argument that leaving you in your current role for the entire period of the contract would be missing an opportunity to extract even greater returns from this investment. If your employer is asking you to commit to X number of years with the organization, then the door has been open to discuss how you will be be promoted and given increasing levels of responsibility over the period of the contract. Finally, practically speaking, these are difficult contracts to enforce and really represent primarily a form of commitment between employee and employer.

    I hope these comments and advice are useful. Please accept my best wishes in your efforts to join a great Executive MBA program.


    Danny Szpiro
    Associate Dean for Executive Education
    Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management
    Cornell University

    • John A. Byrne


      Thanks very much. This is wonderful advice and insight.