Glenn Hubbard

Columbia B-school's Glenn Hubbard: Is an MBA worth it?

February 8, 2013: 9:16 AM ET

Hubbard discusses the anxiety in MBA programs, Columbia's MBA application plunge, and why alum Warren Buffett has not donated.130208021320-glenn-hubbard-columbia-gallery-vertical

Interview by John A. Byrne

(Poets&Quants) -- If Columbia Business School Dean Glenn Hubbard were to advise his McKinsey-bound son on where to get his MBA, Hubbard says there are only four or five programs that he would recommend. He declines to mention the schools by name, but you can rest assured that Columbia would be on the list along with Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton. That leaves a lot of very good schools off the list.

Hubbard, dean of Columbia's business school since July 2004, is an economist by training. He joined Columbia in 1988, after beginning his teaching career at Northwestern. He was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George Bush and a top economic advisor to Mitt Romney during his recent presidential campaign.

In a wide-ranging interview with Poets&Quants, Hubbard discusses, among other things, the anxiety in MBA programs, whether Warren Buffett will become a donor, and Columbia's MBA application plunge last year, vastly exceeding downturns at other elite business schools.

Last year, applications to Columbia's MBA program fell by 19%, more than at any other top business school. How are things looking this year?

We are fortunate that our applications are up 9% year-over-year. What was weird about our drop is that it came along all at once. I told the faculty I felt like Wile E. Coyote, where he ran off the cliff and didn't know it yet. We had a couple of years where applications had plateaued and then all of a sudden crashed. But fortunately we are back up.

Your decline was generally attributed to Wall Street's troubles and the fact that Columbia's fortunes are so closely tied to Wall Street. Agree?

Wharton had a similar pattern. And if you were to do a trend line, we are both on that line. Harvard is above it. Harvard is the one school at the top where if you did a trend line pre-crisis and looked at applications, it's above it.

Do you think the decline is related to the belief that the value of the MBA degree has declined?

No. I think the value of the degree is still very high if you can go to a good school. If you go to any top business school, you will gain a skill set and mindset to make you a very good business leader. If you have in mind only an analytical job track, you might want to question the ROI. I think it's really hard to defend, at least in money terms, the value of an MBA beyond the top business schools.

And when you say top business schools, who would you put into that category?

No. Honestly, I won't name names because that always makes staff nervous. But my own son who is graduating from Columbia College and is going to work for McKinsey, if he asked me in a couple of years which business school to go to, I would give him only four or five names and say, "Go to anyone of those. They are all great. They are all different. But go to one of them." More

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