Shaista Khilji's office at George Washington University's Graduate School of Education and Human Development has become a sort of confessional where, she says, M.B.A. students stop by to share their hesitations about and disinterest in business school.
Business students—who are increasingly enrolling in education courses at GW—are growing skeptical of their major due to widespread criticism of M.B.A. programs' "profit first" model and in the wake of high-profile corporate scandals, Khilji says. "Many of them are questioning the worth of an M.B.A. education."
M.B.A. students at GW aren't the only ones turning toward the education sector. Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, Rice University's Jones Graduate School of Business, University of California—Berkeley's Haas School of Business, University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management, and Yale University's School of Management are among the schools with student-run education clubs. And at Stanford's Graduate School of Business, which also has an education club, students can pursue a joint M.B.A./M.A. in education.
Though the education industry's not known for doling out high salaries, business students seem to be increasingly seeking jobs in the policy, technology, and management of education, say education professionals and business students.
"That's what's so unique about this trend. M.B.A.'s being interested in a new industry where they think they can make money is nothing new. M.B.A.'s pursuing a path that isn't likely to ever pay off in a big way financially ... is new," says Miro Kazakoff, cofounder of Testive, a website that helps students predict their scores on standardized tests.
Over the past year or two, education has become a much more desirable field for M.B.A.'s, says Kazakoff, who holds an M.B.A. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management. "Being in the ed tech space, I see how blazingly fast this became a big deal," he says. "It's low paying and nontraditional, but the resources to pursue a career in education are much better."
One resource that Kazakoff cites is Education Pioneers, a nonprofit founded in 2003 that places graduate students in leadership and management roles at more than 160 partnering educational institutions. Education Pioneers has seen a "steady increase" since its inception in the number of M.B.A. students—who typically make up about 25 percent of the applicant pool—applying for fellowships, says Julie Angilly, the nonprofit's vice president of external relations.
Increased awareness of Education Pioneers and greater understanding in the education sector of the importance of M.B.A. talent has driven student interest in the fellowship, Angilly says. "In general, the education space is becoming more open to skills and experience outside of the traditional education world," she says.
After they graduate, about half of the M.B.A. students who are Education Pioneers fellows work in education, primarily in leadership and management roles, Angilly says. That's a career path that requires some humility and discretion, says Tracy Brisson, a former director of teacher recruitment for the New York City public school system.
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"Some people think education reform is about hiring outsiders to come in, change everything to make it more business-like and 'save' schools from themselves. It's very paternalistic. No one likes that attitude, and I and many others pass on those candidates," says Brisson, who is also founder of the career consultancy The Opportunities Project.
At MIT's Sloan School, there's a lot of excitement about education technology, and students are mostly motivated by the right desires, says Dennis Jiang, an M.B.A. student and copresident of the student club Sloan.Ed.
"I've personally never met anyone who is passionate about education because they think this is the way that they're going to be [Facebook cofounder] Mark Zuckerberg. People who are passionate about education technology—a lot of it is driven by their desire to help people learn," he says.