09 / 12 / 2020

Don’t Be a Silly Sneetch (Or What Shouldn’t You Give for an MBA)


Why does everybody keep shelling out good money for a degree that’s worth less and less every year? To feel special, obviously. Just like those Sneetches in the Dr. Seuss story who thought that having a star on their bellies meant they were really something. But even the Sneetches realized that when everybody wears stars, there’s nothing special about it.

Carey Smith | Founding Contrarian

There was a time when the word “proliferation” was mostly heard in discussions about nuclear weapons. But clearly its use has expanded to include other pernicious phenomena, since an article in The Wall Street Journal referred to the proliferation of online MBAs, thanks largely to the pandemic. Apparently, traditional MBAs weren’t meaningless enough, though I sure would have thought so.

In the article, some guy who heads up an educational consulting firm — so we know he is completely unbiased — claims online degrees are no longer the poor relation of traditional ones; that they’re now seen by recruiters as just as valuable. I agree, if by equally valuable he means equally useless. In my experience, an MBA might help you get your foot in the door — in some places — but it’s no guarantee you’ll know what to do once you’re inside.

When we started the fan company 20 years ago, I might have chosen to give somebody with an MBA an interview over somebody without one. But after talking to a few of those holders of “advanced” degrees, and especially after speaking to MBA classes at some of the most hallowed halls of higher learning, the shine was off the shinola. Education ain’t what it used to be, yet people keep up the pretence that a degree means something, that it’s important. And now schools have found a way to pull in more students who think they need degrees to feel special.

It reminds me of the old Dr. Seuss story about the Sneetches. Some Sneetches had stars on their bellies and displayed them proudly, making those without stars feel inferior. But then a guy comes along selling stars for cheap, and before long all the Sneetches are wearing stars. This makes the original starred Sneetches upset, and they pay the same guy to have their stars removed in an effort to feel special again. In the end, all the Sneetches are broke, while the star-seller/remover laughs all the way to the bank.

These days it makes no sense to pay like a Sneetch for a degree thinking it will make you somehow superior, when MBAs are a dime a dozen but cost tens of thousands of dollars. The only ones that come out ahead in that transaction are the degree sellers. Instead, browse the catalog of MOOC, or Massive Open Online Courses, available through edX.org or its affiliates. There for free you can study virtually anything, virtually, from the top universities in the world, including most of what is taught at expensive business schools.

If I were looking to hire today, and had to choose between interviewing someone who’d bought an expensive MBA or someone who’d taken free classes at Ivy League schools, I know who I’d choose — and it wouldn’t be the Sneetch.