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A few decades ago, earning a master’s degree in business administration was seen by many as a smart investment in career and financial success. Trends and conventional wisdom led new M.B.A. graduates to believe that they could expect an advantage when applying for well-compensated, desirable jobs in their field.

Today, it is not as clear whether or not M.B.A. programs are the best approach for recent college graduates or professionals looking to take their careers to the next level. Studies show that salaries for business school graduates are either remaining stagnant or falling.

The number M.B.A. programs has grown in recent years: U.S. schools granted 126,214 masters degrees in business and administration in the 2010-2011 academic year, a 74 percent increase from 2000-2001, according to the Department of Education. Unfortunately, the demand for hiring graduates has not kept pace, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article:

Formerly, the traditional M.B.A. was mainly the product of a full-time, two-year program. But beginning in the early 1990s, many schools created part-time and executive M.B.A. programs, with lower-ranked schools often following in the footsteps of academic leaders. Online degrees also gained in popularity.

As a result, the number of M.B.A. degrees granted has grown faster than the population, says Brooks Holtom, a management professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.

“An M.B.A. is a club that is now not exclusive,” he says. “You should not assume that this less exclusive club is going to confer the same benefits.”

The article listed the following reasons students might want to think twice about investing in an M.B.A. program:

  • Though numbers vary, recruiters’ expected median salary for newly hired M.B.A.s basically stayed the same between 2008 and 2011, not adjusting for inflation, according to a survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council.
  • For graduates without a lot of work experience—three years or less—median pay was $53,900 in 2012, down 4.6 percent from 2007-08, according to an analysis conducted for The Wall Street Journal by Pay fell at 62 percent of the 186 schools examined.
  • Close to 60 percent of graduating M.B.A.s said they expected to repay some loans after graduation, according to a 2012 GMAC survey. Average student loan debt in households headed by people who attended graduate school and are under 35 climbed to $81,758 in 2010 according a Wall Street Journal analysis of Federal Reserve data, up from $55,594 in 2007.
  • Some companies are moving away from recruiting new hires with M.B.A. degrees, instead opting to hire more employees with undergraduate degrees and train them in-house.
  • There is no guarantee that an M.B.A. will lead to a higher salary, though it can be taken into account by certain employers.
  • Work experience is still paramount to many companies and valued more than an advanced degree.

Business school is a significant commitment of time and money, and the decision to enroll in a program is not to be taken lightly. For many professionals, it is the right way to advance their knowledge and further their career. For many others, other professional development courses and resources are a better fit and a much more flexible, affordable option.

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