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Are Executive Education Programs Worth It?

executive education course student

Should you get an executive education? It sounds fancy and worthwhile…

“I went back to school for an executive education,” seems like a powerful statement, but is it?

First, let’s dissect what an executive education really means.

What Is an Executive Education?

We’re not talking about an MBA or an Executive MBA. Executive education refers to academic programs that are non-degree granting. They’re typically offered at graduate business schools and often consist of short-term classes or programs that lead to certificates.

For example, Harvard Business School offers 16 focused executive education programs for business leaders and professionals. The programs cover topics such as business operations, entrepreneurship, finance, globalization, and health care. They vary in length and details but are typically only a few days to a few weeks long.

Other business schools, such as Wharton, offer more specific and narrow executive education programs like their two-week long Executive Development Program. The program is designed as a fast-track for business leaders to strengthen their knowledge of topics such as finance, strategy, marketing, and management.

The final thing you need to know about executive education programs is that they’re expensive. The Wharton program is $26,000 for two weeks while Harvard’s programs vary from $6,000 for three days to $25,000 for a four-month course in Africa. With that type of cost commitment, the question becomes, “Are they worth it?”

Are Executive Education Programs Worth It?

There’s no such thing as too much education. You can never know all there is to know or be over qualified for business. However, that doesn’t mean that everything will be worth the time, effort, or money required.

Executive education programs focus on teaching participants how to lead. They also dive deep into the specifics of particular industries, job functions, or skill sets.

According to David Yoffie, Chairman of Executive Education at Harvard Business School, they’re designed for professionals with more than 15 years of management experience who, “need to…take it to the next level,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

The ROI of Executive Education

But what is the ROI of an executive education program? Unfortunately, it’s not easy to quantify. While you can track the results of skill-based training, you can’t quantify how that training affects the business’ big picture.

“Executive education is about learning new tools, frameworks, ways to think about the business and the global economy. That’s not something you can test at the end of a chapter,” Rochelle Weichman, Associate Dean for Executive Education at MIT Sloan, told Chief Executive.

At the end of the day, the worth of executive education has to be tied back to the company and the individual. Most professionals have significant business challenges that they face and need to address, or they have holes in their skillset. If the goal of the executive education is to solve a problem or to expand an executive’s knowledge base, then the results will be worthwhile.

“I continue, daily, to apply the tools and thought processes that I learned from my MIT Sloan Executive Education experience,”

Phil Gillingham, Director of Global HR Operations at Microsoft, said in an MIT blog:

“The hands-on learning vignettes, led by renowned thought leaders and business experts, provide a balance of theory, research, and real-world applications. Whether you are a manager of a P&L, leading a product development team, or in a corporate function like HR or IT, you will leave with tangible tools that can be immediately applied to advance your business.”

When is an Executive Education Worth While?

Okay, so let’s say an executive education is worth it for you? When should you go back to school and attend a program?

There are four times during your career when it’s a good idea to attend an executive education program.

  1. You Want a Promotion

Sometimes you can reach the pinnacle of your career unless you do something to make yourself stand out. That’s where an executive education program can come in handy. No matter how impressive your background or work history, companies want c-level executives who understand large-scale strategic thinking and always strive to expand their knowledge base.

Forbes recently wrote an article about what it takes to get to the C-suite at an organization. They revealed that companies want individuals who are not only exceptional in their specialization but also have another foot in the “central business concerns.”

An executive education program is an excellent way to show your ability to look at the big picture.

  1. You’re Considering an MBA

If you’re still on the fence about going back to school for your MBA, an executive education program may be the intermediate step you need. Executive education programs are relatively risk-free and, besides the high cost, require a minimal commitment.

So, if you’re wondering if an MBA is worth the multi-year commitment, start with a smaller investment by getting an executive certificate. Not only will you be able to determine if the education was valuable, but you’ll also be able to see how the additional education affects your career prospects.

  1. You Want to Expand Your Knowledge Base

Just because you’ve reached the c-level suite at your company doesn’t mean you’ve gone as far as you can go.

Indra Nooyi, the Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, recently told Fortune her top advice for executives:

“Never stop learning. Whether you’re an entry-level employee fresh out of college or a CEO, you don’t know it all. Admitting this is not a sign of weakness. The strongest leaders are those who are lifelong students.”

You don’t know what you don’t know. An executive education program can open your eyes to new business ideas and ways to improve your marketing, strategic leadership, vision development, and ability to thrive in complex situations.

  1. You Want to Change Careers

Changing your career is never an easy process. To be successful, you have to understand how your skills can transfer across fields, and you need to know what knowledge gaps need filling. And if you can’t fill those knowledge gaps in your current role, you’ll need to seek out courses that will prepare you for your career shift.

Matthew Salzberg, the CEO and Founder of Blue Apron, recently spoke to Fortune about what it takes to change careers:

“When you change careers, you’ll have a lot to learn – and quickly. The best way to ease this transition is to seek out people who can advise and coach you along the way with perspectives that are different than your own.”

And one of the best ways to find mentors and advisors is to attend and executive education program.

The Best Executive Education Programs

Each year, the Financial Times releases a ranking of the best Executive Education programs around the world.

The 2016 top ten Executive Educations programs in the world are as follows:

  1. IMD
  2. IESE Business School
  3. Harvard Business School
  4. University of Virginia: Darden
  5. University of Michigan: Ross
  6. Center for Creative Leadership
  7. Esade Business School
  8. HEC Paris
  9. University of Oxford: Saïd
  10. Fundacao Dom Cabral

As for U.S., the top ten programs for 2016 are as follows:

  1. Harvard Business School
  2. University of Virginia: Darden
  3. University of Michigan: Ross
  4. University of Chicago: Booth
  5. Stanford Graduate School of Business
  6. MIT: Sloan
  7. UCLA: Anderson
  8. Columbia Business School
  9. Thunderbird School of Global Management at ASU
  10. Boston University: Questrom

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About the Author


Kelly Vo    

Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and personal development.

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