The democratization of the MBA


Pstt… wanna a free MBA? You can get one at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Without putting up with the cold winters.

It’s a bit nuanced, but basically here how is how it works:

  • You sign up for the online MBA at Coursera.
  • If you want to be actually matriculated at the University, you pay the $20k fee for the MBA (you will have to go through the acceptance process).
  • But there’s a twist — you can just take the courses for free. You won’t get the level of classroom involvement, but you’ll get the core information.

If you go the free route, you can always apply later, building credits as you go along. But if you just want the information, then you can get it. And not pay through the nose (even though $20k is very reasonable for an MBA).

This is not a little thing — Urbana-Champaign is one of the top MBA schools.

6 replies on “The democratization of the MBA”

It’s not really democratized or free if you don’t get the accreditation. The reason people take the courses is to get the degree so they can gain access to jobs. It is the monopoly degree granting privilege of universities that gives them the power to extract exorbitant rents from the country’s middle class.

Why would I invest two years of my life to learn the material if I don’t get the letters after my name? The courses themselves are mostly low value — stuff you could have learned at work or even in high school if you were paying attention. The other thing that you get for the money is a network of classmates that you work with, and probably learn more from than you do from the profs, but you don’t get that either if you don’t pay.

It’s the illusion of free, not really free.

I do like the courses at edX but I take them more for personal knowledge than for credit.

I also like the idea of try before you buy for this MBA. If you find the value then you pay the 20K, if not you can walk away. Sort of encourages the school to make the course have value other than a piece of paper.

I beg to differ. This is a full MBA curriculum — for free. It’s not like the free courses you can get at Harvard, MIT, Stanford, etc.

Now, if you need the sheepskin, you can always transfer midway through your free MBA to getting the paid MBA, which is only $20k. It’s a ridiculous bargain.

The point is that the courses have little to no intrinsic value, which is precisely why Urbana-Champaign can afford to “give them away for free”.

For 99% of people, the value is in the letters after your name that signal to an employer that you are ready for a promotion or have earned the next level of pay. Unless you pay, you don’t get the letters.

I don’t know whether you have taken an MBA, but I can assure you that there is very little in the program that you wouldn’t already know if you’ve been working for a while, or that you couldn’t quickly learn if you needed it. And, most people lack the self-discipline and internal motivation to go through all this material without the structure of attending classes and being responsible to class teammates for case work.

Regarding the intrinsic value of the courses, it resides in thinking through the ideas and doing the work with your classmates and discussing it with the professor. You learn from others’ experiences and insights, not from the course itself. If you lack specific expertise in Finance or Legal or whatever it is that you need, you may learn a bit in those courses, but overall, not so much.

So, as I said, unless you attend the classes, do the work, build the network, and pay to get the letters after your name, MBA courses from any school have no value. In fact, if you take to heart much of the material, it actually has negative value (acting on the course material will in most cases lead to lower performance by you and your organization which damages the company) — having “knowledge” and knowing how to use it are two very different things.

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