June 13, 2004 9:00 p.m.
Deciding whether to pursue an advanced degree is a question many
if not most undergraduates now ponder as they reach the end of
their college careers. For members of this year’s graduating
class in search of the best way to secure a bright financial
future, the answer could now be a graduate program with a more
creative emphasis than conventional wisdom has normally
Five years ago, anyone graduating with a master of business
administration degree had good reason to be outlandishly
optimistic. At the height of the dot-com boom it would not have
been a very rare or even unrealistic assumption for M.B.A.
graduates to believe they could in all likelihood be millionaires
by age 30. That was just how fast the money seemed to be rolling in
for the many Internet start-ups that were busy gobbling up nearly
every M.B.A. in sight.
As everyone by now knows, the bubble would soon burst. And by
all accounts, many new M.B.A.s have since experienced a rather rude
According to a poll conducted every three years by Duke
University’s Fuqua School of Business, only 60 percent of
business school graduates reported having secured full-time jobs as
of mid-March 2003 versus 84 percent at the same time in 2000. And
though recent reports indicate new M.B.A. hiring is up slightly for
2004, it is still nowhere near 1999 or 2000 levels.
Instead of continuing to put all its eggs in one basket,
corporate America seems to have learned its lesson from the dot-com
“What I have heard from a lot of employers is that
they’re (now) recruiting people with a wide variety of
backgrounds,” said Steven Rothberg, president of
CollegeRecruiter.com, a job listing Web site geared toward students
and recent graduates. “There’s a tendency for M.B.A.s
being analytical and numbers-driven, and those are wonderful
strengths to have. But a lot of times those people are not the
creative thinkers, the loose cannons that every organization needs.
So a good mixture of the two is very healthy.”
In their search for those creative thinkers, some companies
appear to be widening their field of vision to include degree
holders they might never have considered before: art students. A
February article in the Harvard Business Review even went so far as
to call the the master of fine arts degree the new M.B.A.
Beth Doling, marketing coordinator for The Lucas Group ““
an Atlanta-based recruiting and executive search firm with offices
in Los Angeles ““ explains the logic behind this change as an
effect of the recent economic decline.
“Let’s say that a company had been working with an
agency (to meet its creative needs). With the economic downturn,
(it has) ended up needing someone who’s more versatile, who
can handle that type of work in-house,” Doling said.
Part of this story could also be explained by just how selective
art schools now are in comparison with business schools. At UCLA,
graduate admissions rates for the art department was 3 percent of
all applicants for the last academic term, and
Design | Media Arts was around 8 percent. The Anderson School of
Business, on the other hand, admitted closer to 11 percent of all
But even if M.F.A.s are graduating from a more competitive pool
of talent, what exactly could art students bring to the business
world? Rothberg points out that many of the hot products on the
market today that have the largest profit margins, such as
Apple’s iPod, have an element of art to them.
“If all (companies) are looking to do is to sell a
commodity, then you really don’t need people with great
artistic ability. But the products that command the greatest
premium in price tend to be those that are the most unusual, that
have the greatest design,” Rothberg said.
Of course, all this doesn’t necessarily mean that M.F.A.
students will soon be running at the chance to sign up with a major
corporation. Many art students are drawn to their field because
they feel rather strongly that they don’t belong in the
Osman Khan, who is graduating from UCLA this term with an M.F.A.
in Design | Media Arts, sees himself more as a social critic and an
artist than as someone heading out into the world looking to land a
steady job. His M.F.A. thesis project, currently on display in
Kinross Building South’s New Wight Gallery, includes several
displays that ask visitors to use their credit cards in order to
interact with the art. But the economic realities of trying to live
the life of an artist have also made Khan somewhat more circumspect
about his future.
“I’m not against it,” Khan explained of his
feelings about working in the business world. “If the offer
was right and it was interesting, I would consider it.”