What are the best MBA schools in Portland, Oregon?

The Portland, Ore., metro area offers a variety of MBA programs. Your challenge is finding the one that's right for you. This guide to choosing an MBA program will help you sort through the options as you consider:

What is the return on investment for an MBA?

Just as a bachelor's degree has been the baseline for job qualifications, the master's degree is quickly becoming the baseline for promotion and advancement.

A recent survey by The Wall Street Journal found that employers expected mainly two results from MBA programs: improved management and leadership skills such as managing change and strategic thinking.

A slow economy can be an excellent opportunity for professionals to expand their skill set. Layoffs and a slow job market offer the time needed to submerse yourself in a full-time MBA program, gaining the management and leadership skills employers look for.

It is also a good time for those with jobs to plan ahead for future advancements by learning how they can be more effective leaders and managers. Part-time MBA programs offer this alternative. With the baby boomer executives in the U.S. and abroad reaching retirement, the need for qualified managers will increase.

A recent look at about 50,000 MBA salaries across the U.S. showed a broad range of average incomes, from a low of $50,000 annually for a financial analyst, to about $80,000 for a marketing manager, and $125,000 and up for a chief financial officer.


What kind of an MBA program do you need?

Though most MBAs provide the same core classes, schools offer a variety of business degrees and teaching models.

Types of degrees – Some schools offer specialized business degrees, from a Master of International Management (MIM) to a Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership (MAOL). If a specialized focus will be helpful in your field, be sure the degree is well recognized and will not need to be explained to future employers.

The general MBA gives solid, well-rounded training in all management-related issues, with the added benefit of teaching and applying the valuable "soft" people skills to the current bestbusiness practices. In addition, an MBA is recognizable worldwide and transferable to every form of business.

Teaching models – MBA programs offer several teaching models: cohort (a group of students taking the same courses and curriculum together through the entire program), non-cohort, online, and a mixture of online and class time.

If the school sets enrollment standards for minimum business experience, you will land in a cohort where you learn from others' experience and expertise, forming networks and friendships that last. Cohorts also help form the skills business leaders are looking for in employees: strong communication skills, and an ability to work in teams and collaborative situations.

Part-time or full-time program – Assessing your current situation will help you determine whetherto enter a part-time or full-time program. Do you have a job you enjoy, and do not want to leave? Or are you ready for a complete change of pace?

In a part-time program, you will learn with other students earning a degree while balancing family and work. Fitting an MBA program into your schedule is doable. It is a matter of finding the program that is the right proximity to your home and work, combined with a class schedule that fits around the other pieces of your life.

A full-time program is optimum for students continuing their education directly after earning a bachelor's degree, or for professionals either currently without a job or planning a career change. While a part-time program gives the opportunity to immediately apply what you are learning, a full-time program lets you immerse yourself in the projects and learning process.


Does accreditation matter?

When researching potential MBA programs, be aware of the difference between national and regional accreditation – and beware the diploma mills.

Regional accreditation is the most recognized and accepted form of accreditation a university can receive. This evaluation accredits all programs within the institution and is nationally recognized. The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities is the regional accrediting body for Oregon and Washington. National organizations accredit program-specific or single-purpose institutions.

Diploma mills offer phony degrees. They generally require far less time and effort than legitimate degrees.

In Oregon, one of the first states to declare illegitimate degrees illegal, using an unaccredited degree is a Class B misdemeanor.  This may compromise you and your employer's credibility, and possibly land you and your employer in legal difficulty.

Bottom line: Make sure your MBA school is accredited either regionally or nationally. Additionally, if you plan on your employer paying part or all of your tuition, be aware of any accreditation requirements the employer has.


How will you pay for your degree?

Often, employers are willing to help pay for an MBA. Talk with your HR department to determine how you may qualify for tuition reimbursement. Here are some steps for exploring other avenues of paying for your MBA:

  • Check with financial aid services at the schools where you are applying. Do your own additional research on scholarships, grants, and federal vs. private loans.
  • Pay off debt. Lenders use your credit score when considering your loan application, so you want to be in good standing (with low credit card debt).
  • Cut back on extra spending and put money into savings for school.
  • Determine how much you will need. Look not only at the tuition cost, but also at expenses such as books and materials, networking events, and class travel. The cost of some MBA programs is all-inclusive, while the cost of others is tuition-only.
  • Use free money first, such as scholarships and grants. Subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans are available, as is the Graduate PLUS Loan.


Making your decision

Key elements in an MBA

As you explore MBA programs, keep in mind these elements that are essential to today's business world.

  • Globalization – Gaining international experience
  • Strategic implementation – Resisting the urge of 'status quo'
  • Human capital – The human dimension of management

Look for a program that gives you actual international experience, connecting you with peers overseas. If you plan to work in a specific country, ask the school how they can help prepare you for that culture and that part of the world.

A challenge of leadership is taking the knowledge, skills and ideas you've gained through an MBA, and executing them in your work environment and life. It can be easier to remain "status quo," content with what is rather than pursuing what could be. But the result is nothing more than low motivation, decreased morale, inefficiencies, and lack of clear direction.

If you do not pursue strategic implementation of the ideas and skills you gain, you waste both financial and human capital output.

A good MBA program teaches you how to be strategic, develop a business plan, work the plan, and pursue a pattern of continuous process improvement — a cycle of evaluation that continuously breeds new strategies. And the best programs make sure you do that while you're in school, where you continue to learn through the experience.

When evaluating an MBA program's strengths, it is essential also to evaluate your strengths; or perhaps more accurately, your weaknesses.

Will boning up on the "hard skills" – economics, finance, marketing, accounting, operations – be sufficient for your professional goals? Or do you need a school that also emphasizes the "soft skills" of conflict resolution, attracting and retaining talent, coaching effectively, and fostering teamwork?


‘What to look for’ list

As you look at MBA programs and speak with school representatives, ask these questions.

  1. Does the program employ qualified, passionate professors? What are their credentials? What is the faculty-to-student ratio? Are they adjunct or full time? Just as a business hires consultants for specific projects, but does not run the entire business on consultants alone, a dedicated teaching staff needs full-time employees, with consultants — the adjunct — brought in for specific topics.
  2. How important are class schedule flexibility and location? Do you have the time and means to commute across town or do you need to find a school nearby? Can you make roomin your lifestyle for the class schedule?
  3. How will you best learn, and what model will give you the most lasting results? Consider whether youwant to interact with and learn from others in the business world, or if you prefer to work alone. If you are interested in the cohort model, find out ifthe school has entrance requirements for business experience to ensure that you are with a group where you will learn and grow.
  4. Look closely at how tuition and fees are structured and presented. To make sure you accurately compare the cost of schools, break it down into the following:
    • Number of credit hours required for the degree: ___
    • Cost per credit hour: $___ Total tuition cost: $___
    • Total cost of materials for all classes: $___
    • Time and cost of commute to school
  5. Is the school accredited? Regional accreditation is the standard. The business program may also have addition accreditation through an accrediting agency such as the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP) or the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).