Guest Column

Why an M.B.A. Compares Favorably to a Doctorate


Today’s test for practicing superintendents and aspirants who hold education doctorates:


  • What are the results of your school district’s most recent marketing competitive analysis vis-à -vis charter schools?

  • What does scenario planning tell you about the look of your school district in the years 2008, 2018 and 2028?

  • What standardized test results do you predict (yes, predict) in reading and mathematics using multiple regression analysis or other statistical techniques?

  • What criteria are used for assessing district auditor competency?

  • Which would most influence a savvy board of education that is considering hiring you to be their new superintendent--a Harvard M.B.A. or an Ed.D. from Mail Order U.?"
Expanded Skills
Chances are, with only an education doctorate to your name, you would not be prepared to respond to these questions. As a top-tier M.B.A., you probably would. What I’m suggesting is that a masters in business administration from a highly respected university will provide you with more substantive and political know-how than a standard doctoral degree in education.

First, consider relevant knowledge and skills. An M.B.A. clearly has more substantive value than an education doctorate. A degree from a top-tier institution (say, the University of Chicago, Harvard or Stanford) has all the more substantive value.

For the sake of discussion, assume that the M.B.A. and education doctorate are both earned from top-tier institutions. Unlike the education doctorate, the masters in business administration would enable you as a superintendent to:

  • understand linear regression techniques and use them to influence reading and math achievement;

  • appreciate bond issue intricacies and associated financial analyses;

  • apply finely honed financial and analytical skills enabling you to hire, with alacrity, the best assistant superintendent for business--and be 100 percent confident of your selection.

    Disillusioned Comments
    Information is power. Have you ever felt uncomfortable knowing that your assistant superintendent for business better understands the financial affairs of your school district than you? M.B.A. training from a respected institution ensures you never will be in this situation. That’s one of the significant benefits I have received from the M.B.A. I earned at the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business.

    To paraphrase a former TV comedian, "Can we talk substance?" Consider these aspersions often cast upon the quality of course work in educational administration programs:

  • "They made us jump through hoops."

  • "They graded on class participation."

  • "I received credit for experience."

    Not all doctoral programs merit such derision. But is it not disillusioning to hear these comments, or sadder yet to utter them, about an institution that grants dozens of Ed.D.s perennially?

    Consider, also, the advantage in politics. To any board of education with a measure of sophistication, a top-tier M.B.A. has more political value than an education doctorate nine times out of 10. The superintendent or aspiring superintendent who holds an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago or Harvard has employment opportunities beyond those of his or her education doctorate counterparts. It opens doors, as well as the pocketbooks of prospective employing boards of education (to say nothing of the opportunities and pocketbooks in the private sector).

    And what about your powers of persuasion in interacting with community business leaders? A top-tier M.B.A. will magnify your effectiveness manyfold. The political value of an M.B.A. is substantial.

    A Comparative Advantage
    Finally, if you’re still unconvinced about the comparative substantive and political value of a masters in business administration over an educational administration doctorate, ask yourself this: What does my doctoral degree enable me to do that wasn’t possible prior to this training?

    For the benefit of the boys and girls we serve as school system leaders, superintendents of today and tomorrow should consider adding to their skill banks, sharpening their existing skills and furthering their careers by investigating and investing in the best M.B.A. program possible. The substantive and political value are significant.

    Stan Fortuna Jr. is superintendent of Oakridge Public Schools, 481 S. Wolf Lake Road, Muskegeon, Mich. 49442. E-mail: He holds both an M.B.A. and an Ed.D.