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Trained Incapacity: The Rise of Specialized Master's Degrees

Trained Incapacity: The Rise of Specialized Master's Degrees
Photograph by Thierry Dosogne/Getty Images

“Generalist species is able to thrive in a wide variety of environmental conditions and can make use of a variety of different resources. A specialist species can only survive in a narrow range of environmental conditions.”

Warren Bennis
When I was president of the University of Cincinnati in the 1970s, the dean of the medical school poignantly remarked that the only generalist he could find at the hospital or in the faculty was the patient. That irony has come to mind frequently in the past year or so when I learned that 60 percent of U.S. MBA programs reported a decline in applications. At the same time, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, “the market for specialized master’s programs in accounting, management, finance, and a number of other business disciplines has never been stronger.” Deborah MacInnis, a vice dean at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, has been concerned about these specialized degrees and alerted me that for the last five years or so, B-schools have received a growing number of applications for these programs. And many of them seem alarmingly esoteric or vocational such as smart grids, luxury management, fluid dynamics, hospitality, insurance, and retail.