Are Two Degrees Better than One?

A chat with Boston University's John Chalykoff on the school's new MS·MBA program, combining tech knowhow with business fundamentals

John Chalykoff, director of the Master's of Science in Management Information Systems program at Boston University School of Management, has helped to create the school's new joint-degree program, the MS·MBA (pronounced MS dot MBA), which begins in September, 2001. BU plans to enroll half of its full-time MBA students, or 100 students, in the program, demonstrating the increasing amount of attention B-schools are giving to technology, and ensuring that their students have extra skills to make them a hot commodity in the MBA job market when they graduate.

Chalykoff's comments came during a live BusinessWeek Online chat on May 31. He was responding to questions from the audience -- some coming from as far away as India, Saudi Arabia, and Russia -- and BW Online's Jack Dierdorff and Mica Schneider. Following is an edited transcript of their discussion:

Q: John, technology has been a hot topic at B-schools over the past three years. Boston University offers a dual-degree program: the MS·MBA. Why did BU feel the need to add the program to its list of management degree options?


If you want the short answer, it's jobs, jobs, jobs. The long answer is that we're building on strength. One of this school's great strengths was its Master's of Information Systems program. A lot of [students] who took that [16-year-old] degree were [also] involved in our regular MBA program, and these dual-degree graduates were in great demand. They typically land attractive and well-paid positions. The specialty they offer recruiters, in addition to their MBA, is information technology.

That program focused on the information technology aspects of management preparation for future chief information officers and chief technology officers. In contrast, the new MS·MBA program seeks to educate future CEOs, who need to understand all aspects of information technology. You can't separate business issues from technology issues.

Q: How will the program stand out in face of the current technology downturn?


The fact that we built [it] on a program that we had for 16 years, [makes it] solid. [The skills the degree teaches are] still very much in demand. Our recent graduates [in the MS·MBA program] are still [getting] very high salaries.

Q: John, before we get too far ahead of ourselves. Could you tell us quickly about the structure of the new MS·MBA program?


Students in this program get two degrees -- a Master's of science information systems and an MBA -- plus two internships. And they'll also be able to concentrate in an area of their choice: finance, marketing, international management, or entrepreneurship.

It's a total of five semesters long. [Students complete] 84 credit-hours, as opposed to the 60 credit hours in a traditional MBA [program]. Some of the students will [complete] two internships. [Editor's note: Participants in two-year MBA programs usually complete an internship in the months between their first and second years of the program.] One internship is in the summer after their first year, that goes along with whatever area they plan to concentrate in and lasts for 10 or 12 weeks during the summer. They'll also intern during the entire eight months of their second year in an IT-related internship with a local company.

Q: How has the dual degree affected applications to BU?


The applications to our dual degree have been excellent. Our average GMAT score in this entering class was 652, and that GMAT score has been going up for the last three years. The best candidates are the people who really have a high tolerance for pain.

Q: What is the typical age range of the candidates for the MS·MBA degree, and how does it compare to your traditional MBA students?


The age range is the same as the MBA program, about 28 years old.

Q: This program could be a real inducement for some applicants to choose BU, no doubt, but what other reasons are there for such a choice?


BU has always been innovative in its management education. It looks at management as an entire system and is very much against the "silo approach." Also, BU is very focused on teams, and giving people the skills and knowledge to be both effective leaders and followers in teams and to play both those roles appropriately. It's just a tremendous community here, with many caring faculty members who take time to work with the students.

Q: Will the MS·MBA help increase the number of top job recruiters coming to at BU?


There's certainly a lot of excitement among recruiters for this program. We interviewed a little over 25 top recruiters from around the U.S., and uniformly they preferred the MS.MBA [vs.] the traditional MBA program. The average salary is now $88,000 dollars for people coming out of the program.

Q: About what percent of MS·MBAs signed with their field-project sponsor after the internship that takes place during the second year?


The field project that takes place the second year is not designed to match people up with a future job. It's designed to give them exposure to IT-related projects. But invariably, every year, a couple of students end up taking positions with their sponsor.

Q: Why is the average pay package for graduates of a dual degree higher than for the normal MBA? Can you give us a sample of pay packages for recent dual-degree grads?


The reason that they go for a premium is that they are in greater demand and there is more of a shortage of people who have both degrees. There are two degrees you're selling in the marketplace. The average salary is $88,000, plus a $17,000 signing bonus, or an average $105,000 salary package.

Q: Speaking of careers, what do MS·MBAs go on to do? Do they concentrate on tech management, head to start up companies, or work as consultants?


Actually, they do all of that. Many go into consulting, general-management, and systems-analyst jobs. A lot of dual-degree grads, 10 years out, become CIOs of these companies. The MS·MBA is designed to train GMs with an in-depth understanding of technology.

Q: What does this mean for the hordes of MBAs entering the workplace without the second degree? Is the MBA losing its appeal to recruiters?


Well, the MBA is becoming diluted. In 1960, there were approximately 4,000 MBA graduates. This year, there are 105,000, and [40% of those graduates] have an undergraduate degree in business, too. The math suggests that people should be looking to differentiate themselves as much as possible.

Q: Here's a pretty basic question about B-school and careers: How would a concentration in a certain field for an MBA help with my career?


That would depend on what your career goal is. If your goal were to work in finance or marketing, that concentration would be very important. Also important would be getting a summer internship in that area. The strength of the MS·MBA is you not only get an MBA and an MS in information systems, but you're also able to get that concentration.

Q: How different would a traditional MBA in finance be from the finance concentration in the MS·MBA?


When students concentrate on finance in the MS·MBA, there are four courses they can take in the concentration. That's the same number as in any other concentration. Therefore, in 21 months, to fit everything in, students get what is required for the finance concentration, but wouldn't be able to take many courses in finance beyond that.

Q: John, other B-schools now offer graduate degrees in electronic commerce and information-systems management. Do those programs weave any of the management skills traditionally found in MBA programs into their courses? Are they seen as equivalents?


Those are all excellent programs, and they do have some management in them. None of them do what the MS·MBA can do, which is to give a full appreciation of the business side; or what the MS can do, which is to give a full appreciation on the technology side. And for today's jobs, both of those are extremely important.

Q: What's the benefit of having a concentration in MIS if you have an undergraduate degree in information systems?


There's a tremendous amount of benefit. First, the field is changing extremely quickly. It's sort of like asking, "What's the benefit of having an MBA?" if you have and undergrad degree in business. This is why many of the better schools require at least two full years of work experience, [which] gives you a whole new perspective that you can bring to your academics. Our average full-time work experience in the dual degree is five years.

Q: What's the ideal experience that an MS·MBA applicant brings to the table when they apply?


We're looking for well-rounded applicants. Strong technical skills are not required for acceptance into the program, but they're helpful once you begin taking courses. We have quite a continuum of technical skills within the program, from people who are experienced programmers to those who are just familiar with [Microsoft] Word and Excel. One of our current students has an undergraduate degree in rhetoric and design.

Q: Applicants come from around the globe. How can people in distant countries prepare -- for instance, Saudi Arabian hopefuls?


We also look for diversity. People from other countries are a great addition to the class. In the last two years, the dual-degree program has not had students from Saudi Arabia, but we would require the same set of skills and experience from all students that apply to the program.

Q: Speaking of diversity, what's BU doing to ensure that enough women enroll in such a tech-focused program? B-schools already have a hard time recruiting over 30% female students to their MBA programs. A: Well, BU has a high percentage of women in the tech program. Forty percent to 50% of our classes in the last five years in the dual-degree program are women.

Q: For those prospective students who don't have much of a stomach for more exam-oriented academic work, what's the balance of practical or project-oriented work in the course?


There's a lot of both. There's no escaping exams, but [students] will have a lot of team-based programs to work on. In fact, the entire eight month internship is a team-based project. There's a delicate balance, because many students get tired of too many team-based projects.

Q: How does an MS in the field of human-computer interaction and usability analysis compare to an MS in information systems, when combined with an MBA?


They're very different degrees. The MS in computer interaction is a very specialized degree. The MS portion of our degree has some programming-systems analysis and design, database management, those types of courses. Therefore, it's not looking so much at human-computer interaction, but the relation of the computer to business technology.

Q: Even though you could be biased, here's a question from a stock broker from India: I have been accepted to Cornell for an MBA in finance, and to BU for the MS·MBA. Though Cornell is better ranked, the dual degree sounds very interesting because of the insight into the tech side of businesses. What do you recommend I do?


It depends on your goals. I can tell you that if you go to Cornell, it's a great school. But if you come to BU, you'll not only get the finance concentration you're looking for and the MBA but also an in-depth understanding of technology. [That's] a combination in great demand today.

Q: Is the summer internship and the following eight-month field project guaranteed by BU or is it up to each person to get these offers for him or herself?


The eight-month field internship is guaranteed by BU. We have an excellent career center that helps [students find] their summer internships [after the first year].

Q: Does BU waive courses if the student has prior experience in that particular course of study?


Courses can be waived, but it usually requires that [the student] take a test to make sure their knowledge is the equivalent to what we're offering.

Q: Should recent graduates with majors in finance and managing information systems consider such a dual degree?


It's a great idea, but not until [the prospective student] gets at least a couple of years of work experience to make sure [he or she] gets a payoff from doing the dual degree again.

Q: John, you've told us what the MS·MBA will do for a person's career. What can't it do? Where do such degrees fall short?


If you're looking for something which will give you a solid grounding in business and technology, it will certainly do that. However, if you're looking for something that will get you any job in the world, it certainly can't do that. It ends up that degrees by themselves really don't guarantee all of someone's goals. What's required in any program is that people have a passion for what they're doing and take ownership for what they want to do and where they want to go with their future career.

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