Career statistics

MBA career promises: Behind the fancy job stats

September 13, 2011: 11:25 AM ET

They sure sound lovely, but prospective MBAs should not view the school-reported salary averages as a guarantee of a sweet paycheck come graduation day.

By Anne VanderMey, reporter

FORTUNE -- Professional schools have had better years. Facing a brutal job market, underemployed graduates have begun to speak up, some even suing their former institutions, claiming they were duped into acquiring massive debt loads based on the promise of a secure, six-figure-salary job.

That promise is particularly critical at business schools, where graduates expect a quick financial payoff as well as an education. At these programs, the standards for reporting employment statistics, in true B-school fashion, are rigorous and involve accountants (a system some law schools are considering). But even those career statistics can have their flaws. Prospective students take heed: The six-figure school-reported numbers are not a guarantee of a sweet paycheck come graduation day.

The current system has its roots in 1994, when the MBA Career Services Council (CSC), the professional association for MBA career services professionals and recruiters, started developing a set of reporting standards to allow for uniform career reporting across the top schools.

"We all sat around in a room and we hashed it out," says Jackie Wilbur, career services director at MIT's Sloan School of Business who was co-chair of the MBA Career Services Council's standards committee at the time. Those standards were officially adopted by the CSC in 1999. In 2006, it established a set of agreed upon procedures to allow for auditing. The result was a uniform set of extensive, enforceable rules.

In many ways, B-schools have led the charge in employment reporting standards, Wilbur says. She expects other types of programs will likely follow suit and double down on reporting standards.

"Given the rising cost of education, every piece of the equation of the educational offering is going to have to go more and more this way," Wilbur says -- including undergrad programs. "Parents are going to demand better information about return on investment." More

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