October 25, 2010 1:45 am

Counting the costs: financing an executive EMBA

Studying for an executive MBA is not just about keeping your business skills up to date – these days it is crucial your passport is current too. Over the years, a range of global EMBAs have surfaced, enabling students to study abroad for a period: tuition fees typically cover flights, accommodation, cultural events, meals and course materials. But, with some fees costing a hefty six-figure sum, who covers the expense? In an age of austerity, no one wants to be overseas and overdrawn.

Linden Selby, admissions manager for London Business School’s EMBA Global programme, says costs are usually paid by the student or by an employer investing in its top 10 per cent of talent. “Generally, about 35 per cent of a class will have 100 per cent support, with a further 30 per cent receiving support of 50 per cent-plus towards tuition. Paid time off is given by 75-80 per cent of companies.”

She adds that “students have access to loans and must be in good financial standing to graduate”, though there is an agreed staggered payment plan for those in financial difficulties.

Su-Lan Tenn, programme director of the Kellogg-Schulich EMBA at York University in Toronto, says more students were sponsored by their employers before the financial crisis: “We have seen a decrease in ... company sponsorship, albeit slight.” Tenn adds that some are willing to invest their own money – including those who want a career change and fund themselves to avoid being beholden to a company.

With a tuition fee of C$110,000 ($108,000) for 2011-12, self-funding can be a huge undertaking. Before applying for the Kellogg-Schulich EMBA, checks are made in a pre-application interview to ensure applicants can cope with the financial commitment. However, students can take a leave of absence while they resolve any financial difficulties, provided they are in good academic standing.

Steve DeKrey, director of the Kellogg-Hong Kong University of Science and Technology EMBA, emphasises that students are responsible for arranging funding. The kind of students the programme attracts “can find a way to handle the costs”, he says. Since the EMBA started in 1998, on average 12 per cent of students fund themselves fully, though that has risen to 36 per cent for this year’s intake.

Those who are fully funded by their employer account for 27 per cent, compared with the average of 42 per cent. The rest of the class is partially funded. The tuition fee is HK$840,000 ($108,000). DeKrey says the cost of the overseas study element is approximately 15-20 per cent of the total.

He adds: “Having senior students with high-paying jobs removes much of the financial pressure from our programme. It is the time cost that is of most concern to our executives, so we do things that may add cost but save time [such as] providing convenient transportation for all off-campus events.”

Similarly, Tenn says the Kellogg-Schulich approach is to focus on “cost-efficiency as opposed to pure cost-cutting”. For example, students stay in four-star hotels chosen for their convenient location and level of service.

Scholarships are available for some courses. At the Kellogg-HKUST EMBA, next year it is hoped there will be at least three scholarships, worth about $30,000 each, to fund students in non-profit organisations. Those who receive scholarships must stay in their current role for two years after graduation. DeKrey describes the scheme as a way of giving back to the community and encouraging classroom diversity.

There are other costs students need to budget for, says Ben Powell, a self-funded 2010 graduate of OneMBA, a degree taught by a consortium of five schools in Brazil, China, Mexico, the Netherlands and the US. “Social and extracurricular activities were important,” he says. “Associated costs, paid for by students, were comparable to what one might spend during a weekend away with friends.”

There is also the possibility to mix studying with business to make learning abroad time- and cost-effective. The tuition fee for OneMBA does not include all travel costs, but Powell could charge some of those to his work as he spent extra time in Asia on business.

With all that expenditure for one programme, was it worth the money? Powell is positive. “I’m confident I will realise a financial return within 5-7 years through promotion based on greater capabilities.” The value of an enriched global perspective is not to be underestimated, he adds.

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