Home Online Education Access and Affordability Trouble in the Middle…Or the Part Between the Top 10 Percent and the Bottom 10 Percent?

Trouble in the Middle…Or the Part Between the Top 10 Percent and the Bottom 10 Percent?


I read an article in the October 15, 2011 issue of The Economist entitled “Trouble in the Middle.” The article begins by stating that interest in MBA programs at American business schools peaked in 2009 and applications have fallen since then. The author states that some business schools are worried that the trend is related to more than just a slow recovering economy, but in fact a greater change.

The Economist presents data that may back the case that it’s not just the economy. In examining data accumulated in their annual ranking of the top 100 MBA programs, they note that in 2010, the average cost of an MBA for the 85 schools outside of the top 15 was $81,911 while the average starting salary for the graduates of those schools was $81,178. Five years earlier, the two year cost for the same 85 schools was $60,247 while the starting salary average was $78,442. The attached graph shows that the disparity was greater ten years ago when the average starting salary was over $80,000 and the average cost was slightly less than $50,000. The comparison could hardly be more dramatic; increasing costs of tuition have cut the noticeable advantage of attending a residential MBA program outside of the top 15.

Elite schools like Harvard still have an advantage according to The Economist’s survey data. Additionally, the article mentions a recent event at Harvard hosted by a large consulting firm where a member of that firm’s senior management noted while speaking to the faculty that the most valuable player on the Harvard Business School team was the Director of Admissions, a not so subtle reference to the elite students recruited to the school and subsequently recruited by that consulting firm.

While the purpose of the article is to compare costs of high end MBA programs, the comparison can easily be made across the entire continuum of accredited business programs. The Association of Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), one of the accrediting bodies for U.S. business schools, estimates that there are 13,670 institutions world wide that offer a business degree. Being able to distinguish your program and your graduates from the masses is more than likely the only way that you can command a premier price going forward. In more recent commentaries on the general state of global higher education, books like The Global Auction: The Broken Promises of Education, Jobs, and Incomes and The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out also stress the need for differentiation, tuition reductions, or both in order for institutions to maintain their competitive edge. My theory is that regardless of your business program’s relative ranking, competing on price and product differentiation is the only safe way to ensure long term success.



Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In July 2016, he retired as APUS president and continued as CEO of APEI. In September 2017, he was reappointed APUS president after the resignation of Dr. Karan Powell. In September 2019, Angela Selden was named CEO of APEI, succeeding Dr. Boston who will remain APUS president until his planned retirement in June 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. During his tenure, APUS grew to over 100,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 90,000 alumni. In addition to his service as a board member of APUS and APEI, Dr. Boston is a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, a board member of the Presidents’ Forum, and a board member of Hondros College of Nursing and Fidelis, Inc. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. Dr. Boston lives in Owings Mills, MD with his wife Sharon and their two daughters.


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