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Avoid Social Media M.B.A.'s, Some Students Say

A course or two in social media can be helpful, but students say it’s not worth a whole concentration.

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Business school courses are increasingly focusing on social media management, governance, and strategy. The Business School at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey—Newark offers a "Mini-M.B.A." in social media marketing, and Excelsior College in Albany, N.Y., recently announced an M.B.A. concentration in social media management

At other schools, social media is more than just an elective. Southern New Hampshire University has offered an M.B.A. in Social Media Marketing since 2010, and New England College in Henniker, N.H., is scheduled to launch an online M.B.A. in Digital and Social Media on March 18. 

Because social media is such a new field, New England College administrators decided there was a need for students to better understand the return on investment on tools such as Twitter and Google Analytics, says Diane Raymond, the dean of admissions. "I don't think there are any experts right now in social media," she says. 

But the rise of social media-oriented M.B.A. programs has students asking how the new offerings differ from traditional programs that include social media electives. If business schools market new courses in social media as timely responses to the increasingly plugged-in business world, students and faculty wonder, should students who aspire to work in digital communications consider social-media M.B.A.'s better road maps for aspiring executives, or are they beating a dead Twitter bird? 

"In my opinion, a [social media] concentration would be overkill. I do think it would be good to have a class on it, especially for people interested in marketing or concentrating in marketing. To have a concentration, which in most M.B.A. programs is three or four classes, would be excessive," says Lucia Sansoucy, an M.B.A. student at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. 

[Learn why M.B.A. courses increasingly address real-time news.] 

Sansoucy, who runs the social media handles for Assumption's graduate programs, says most students already know how to use social media. "The spin would be how to use it in a business setting. I don't think you would have three classes worth of material for that," she says. 

Students should concentrate in marketing instead, and take a social media class, she says. "If a person were to get an M.B.A. with a concentration in social media, it might be seen as a bit of a lark, or that the person was slacking, or the degree—and the school that offered it—is not quite up to par," she says. 

Raymond, the New England College dean, disagrees. Social media is too nuanced to be properly grasped in just a single course, she says. 

"[In] this program in particular ... every course is guidelined and designed with digital social media trends," Raymond says. "I think because it's such a specialized field, you couldn't just give two courses and say, 'Here you go.' There [are] just too many trends, too many elements for this program that we really had to fine tune it and be sure that we were giving our students what they needed to prepare for their future." 

The curriculum for the New England College program includes courses such as "Trends in Digital and Social Media," "Psychology of Social Media," "Digital Media Law and Ethics," and "Professional Writing and Design for New Media." Of the 10 courses listed on the program website, every course description except one—an accounting and finance class—mentions either social, new, or digital media.

At Southern New Hampshire University, students in the social media M.B.A. program need to take foundation courses before they can take the three specialized courses: "Social Media," "Social Media Marketing Strategy," and "Social Media Marketing Campaigns." That's one thing that caught Julie Zahn, a student in the program, off guard. 

[Check out a survey that says M.B.A.'s need social media skills.]

Zahn, who enrolled in the program hoping to develop social media communications skills she could use as director of alumni relations at a private, all-boys high school in Salisbury, Conn., says she was required to take 14 classes before she could take a social media course. She was also disappointed to learn there were only three courses in social media in the program.