Falling sales, rising unemployment, bankruptcies, foreclosures … In this time of economic insecurity, does it still make sense to earn an MBA?

Yes, said Nancy Nentl, director of the MBA program at Metropolitan State University. She believes an MBA can accelerate professional development and lead to a more satisfying career.

"For a corporate position, the MBA is more important than ever before," Nentl said. "The degree is really essential for understanding the full scope of business."

Added value
Most MBA programs typically offer a standardized core of courses in finance, accounting, marketing, economics, statistics, general management and organizational development. In addition, students usually choose a number of elective courses, often focusing on a concentration or specialty. At Metropolitan, areas of concentration include marketing, management information systems (MIS), project management and finance.

When should someone consider getting an MBA? "The degree is valuable at any stage of your career," Nentl said.

At Metropolitan, many students are mid-level managers in their 30s who want to move into upper management. Others are senior managers who want to enhance their knowledge and skills. And some are senior managers who've been downsized and want to stand out in today's competitive job market.

Full- or part-time?
A full-time MBA program is costly - both in time and money. The actual dollar amount varies - from as much as $100,000 at an Ivy League institution like Harvard to $20,000 at lesser-known universities. And because most full-time MBA programs last about two years, students also need to factor in the cost of lost earnings while they're in school.

A part-time program is often a better choice for adults with families, jobs and other commitments. Part-time students don't have to sacrifice a regular paycheck. And many part-time programs are flexible - a definite plus for busy adults. At Metropolitan, for example, options include online courses, live or classroom-based courses, and hybrid courses, which meet every other week and offer a mix of in-class and online experiences.

Choosing a program
Since Minnesota is currently home to more than 20 MBA programs, Nentl urges prospective students to "do their homework and research the program." Here are some questions to ask before starting a program:

- Can my life accommodate the demands of an MBA program?

- Does the faculty include both practitioners with real-world experience and Ph.D.s doing leading-edge research?

- What are recent graduates doing now? Have they been successful?

- How flexible is the program? How often are classes offered and is the location convenient? Can students "step out" for a semester or longer without being penalized?

- Nancy Giguere
Freelance writer and former teacher from St. Paul