Alumni Survey: Is an MBA Still Worth the Investment?

February 24, 2021

Career advancement, salary development and benefits of Alumni Services

In today’s increasingly digitized and transforming world, more and more prospective MBA students wonder if the time and, even more importantly, the money required to complete an MBA will be well spent as many of them already have well-paying jobs and successful careers. In its latest alumni survey, the WU Executive Academy thus asked its MBA and Master of Laws (MoL) graduates if and in what way completing an MBA at WU has paid off for them. The survey not only evaluated central criteria such as career and salary development but also benefits gained through the alumni offers available to members of the WU Executive Club.

pic of an advancing business lady with an MBA sign in the back
Does an MBA still pay off these days? Facts and figures from the alumni survey.

Return on investment (ROI) is an important parameter also when it comes to MBA programs. “Regardless of whether we look at ROI from a business or an individual’s perspective: it’s about whether it makes sense economically. An MBA will be considered a success if it pays off (financially) and generates real added value for the graduates. In reality, both the rate of return and added value can have various dimensions. This is also confirmed by the results of our most recent alumni survey,” says Prof. Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy.

Significant Salary Increase of Over 30% 

In addition to personal development and the opportunity to form a valuable professional network, an increase in income is another reason for people to go for an MBA. And the rise in salary of the surveyed alumni was impressive: on average, their salaries grew by 30% (36% in CEE countries) compared to what they had earned before the MBA. Across the various programs, the boost in salaries of Professional MBA graduates was most significant (+31%). A regional comparison showed the greatest benefit in graduates from Central and Eastern European countries (+36% in CEE).

“It is a common mistake to believe that completing an MBA will automatically translate into earning more money. Positive developments with regard to alumni’s careers and salaries are effects of their conscious efforts, resilience, and strong motivation. That said, a salary increase of 30% and more is certainly a great success that would have been unlikely without completing an MBA. Playful competition with fellow MBA students, growing together in the process of acquiring subject-specific and leadership skills, and the support alumni offer to each other in manifold professional challenges (job search, negotiations, etc.) are also key drivers behind graduates’ salary increases, “ says Martina Ernst, who was head of HR at an international organization before founding her own enterprise, SalaryNegotiations.

guy with an mba stacks wooden blocks with money symbol
An MBA does not automatically mean more salary - but with motivation and commitment, considerable increases are possible.

Career Turning Points: Kick-Starting Professional Change With an MBA

Even though most students are primarily interested in expanding their knowledge and network, the survey results clearly show that an MBA also fuels professional change: 76% (CEE: 72%) of the alumni survey’s respondents stated that they were able to steer their career in a new and positive direction, and 64% (CEE: 63%) reported having embarked on a new professional path while still completing the program or within a year of graduation. 47% (CEE: 46%) were promoted to a new position within their organizations, and 37% (CEE: 41%) changed employer. Among those who reported changes in their career, 49% (CEE: 67%) took on additional responsibilities, for 59% (CEE: 55%) the career step came with a higher salary, and 46% (CEE: 58%) stated that they were in charge of a larger budget than before their MBA studies.

The share of alumni who manage a team of 100 or more employees increased from 5% (CEE: 7%) before the MBA to 17% (CEE: 11%) at the time of the survey, and also the number of graduates in executive positions reveals a steep upward trend: +21% (CEE: +26%) of the alumni surveyed hold C-level positions as compared to 12% (CEE: 15%) before the MBA.

11% (CEE: 9%) of alumni used the skills acquired in the MBA to start their own company, either alone or together with fellow graduates, doubling the share of entrepreneurs among graduates compared to pre-MBA figures. 81% of them stated that they benefited greatly from the expertise, practical skills, and valuable contacts gained in the course of the MBA program when founding their enterprise.

Portrait Martina Ernst

Martina Ernst

  • Career- and salary-expert and Global Executive MBA alumna

A key component of readiness for the next career step is outgrowing a merely subject-specific and technical dimension and stepping into a strategic position, which, in today’s VUCADD world, requires an unconventional and creative mind. Having worked on numerous case examples throughout the MBA, graduates are excellently prepared for this challenge.

The True Value of the Alumni Network

Among the numerous offers for alumni organized by the WU Executive Club, particularly career services (job search workshop, company visits), alumni events (career cafés/breakfasts, WU EA lounges, Female Leaders Network events, WU Ball, etc.) and the offers of the executive search partners (online LinkedIn lectures, etc.) were particularly popular. On average, 65% of respondents attended events organized as part of the guest speaker series, which take place in Vienna, Bucharest, and other CEE locations on a regular basis throughout the year.

For the first time, the survey included a question on respondents’ “willingness to help,” which has been growing ever since the establishment of the WU EA Connect online platform. The platform provides information about support offers alumni make available to other members of the community free of charge. These offers include sharing experiences from the MBA studies with prospective students, serving as a mentor for high potentials and less experienced executives, organizing a local alumni event, or acting as a hub manager. 

pic of an MBA alumni events
An international alumni network and events are added value to an MBA program.

Betting on the Rright Career Network

The most important networks alumni use to further their careers are social networks such as LinkedIn (68%, CEE: 76%), friends and colleagues (63%, CEE: 63%), and executive search companies (52%, CEE: 59%). The online job platform WU EA Connect, founded only two years ago, is already used by an astonishing 20% (CEE: 24%) of graduates looking for career advancement opportunities. It thus seems that respondents particularly benefit from the four types of networks for which the WU Executive Club has greatly increased its information and career support offers in the past years.

Alumni Survey Facts

Graduates of all MBA and Master of Laws programs offered by the WU Executive Academy participated in the survey. The majority of respondents (95%) was made up of graduates of the Professional MBA (64%) and the Executive MBA (31%), of which 16% were alumni of the Global Executive MBA and 15% of the Executive MBA Bucharest. Women accounted for 33% of respondents, men for 67%.

Geographical Distribution

A large number of respondents hailed from the following countries: 37% were from Austria, 9% from Bulgaria, another 9% from Romania, 8% from Russia, and 6% from Germany.

Industries and Functions

Respondents frequently work in banking/finance/insurance (20% before MBA, 17% when surveyed), the (manufacturing) industry (16% before MBA, 13% when surveyed), and the energy sector (12% before MBA, 15% when surveyed). Within these sectors, they are often found in marketing/sales/PR (19% before MBA, 17% when surveyed), finance/controlling (16% before MBA, 13% when surveyed), operations management (12% before MBA, 6% when surveyed), and general management (11% before MBA, 18% when surveyed).

For more information about the MBA and Master of Law programs, please click here.

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