Surprising Levels of Debt For EMBA & Part-Time MBA Students

piggy2One of the long-time appeals of earning an MBA in either a weekend or evening program is that you could keep your full-time job and not incur the kind of crippling debt burdens common in full-time, two-year MBA programs.

But it now turns out that Executive MBA and part-time MBA students are going heavily into hock to finance their degrees, in many cases borrowing more than $50,000 to get the chance to put those three initials on their resumes, according to newly released data.

At many schools, EMBA students are assuming greater levels of debt than even full-time MBAs even though they are in full-time jobs. At Georgetown University’s McDonough School, EMBA students are graduating with average debt of $112,446, more than double the debt burden of the school’s full-time MBAs whose average borrowing is $51,750. Yet, unlike full-time programs, where corporate recruiters come to campus to recruit newly minted MBAs, executive programs rarely result in sizable boosts to pre-MBA pay. Instead, the payoff tends to be longer term.

The debt burdens were reported by business schools to U.S. News & World Report as part of its recently published annual rankings project. Not all schools reported the numbers to U.S. News, but enough complied to allow for a compelling and a surprising glimpse at student debt for both executive and part-time MBA students.

EMBA DEBT IS OFTEN HIGHER THAN THE DEBT BURDEN BY FULL-TIME MBAS AT THE SAME SCHOOLS

At Emory University’s Goizueta School, 72% of the latest graduating class of EMBAs went in debt with the average burden at $77,795–some $15,000 more than the 68% of graduating full-time MBAs who averaged $62,716 in debt at the school. The same is true at Washington University’s Olin School where EMBA average debt is $78,801 versus $68,732 for full timers.

That’s a surprise because a major appeal of the Executive MBA is that students can continue to work, presumably freeing up more cash to pay for their education. Older and more experienced professionals, moreover, would have had more time to put aside money for their education than a typical full-time MBA student who generally is ten years younger. And even though corporations have cutback on funding of employee education, there’s still a considerable amount of sponsorship money available.

Yet, even when EMBA debt doesn’t exceed full-time MBA debt at a school, the burden remains considerable. At Ohio State University’s Fisher School, for example, the average EMBA debt load is $37,347–among the lowest of any top ranked school reporting numbers. But that is still less than $3,000 of the average debt for full-timers who have borrowed $40,009.

One reason for the surprisingly high debt level is that fewer companies are willing to foot the bill for executive programs. In 2011, the percentage of EMBA students fully sponsored by their employers fell to an all-time low of 27%, down from 34% five years earlier in 2007, according to the Executive MBA Council. Some 37% of all EMBA students are now fully self-sponsored, up from 33% in 2007.

(See following page for table showing debt levels of EMBA students by school)

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