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The case for the MBA degree

Urging Hispanics to consider MBA programs is only a beginning—money, access and comfort levels are also key

By Doreen Hemlock

STORY TOOLS

If Hispanics want more clout in Corporate America, they need to earn more Masters in Business Administration degrees. But while Latinos make up 16 percent of the U.S. population, they represent just 3.5 percent of MBA students at the country’s top 50 business schools, surveys show.

Scores of organizations, including business schools themselves, are working to close that gap. This report looks at resources, best practices and innovations aimed to help students, schools and companies increase Hispanic MBAs. Research shows that it takes strong partnerships and careful attention to every step in the MBA career process—from high school outreach to coaching for interviews and MBA mentors in the workplace—to ensure more Hispanics earn business degrees and climb the corporate ladder.

The stakes extend beyond Latinos. To succeed globally, U.S. corporations must deal with diverse cultures in diverse nations. “If we can’t figure out diversity in the United States, we are going to be hard-pressed to do it in a global setting,” says Peter Aranda III, chief executive of The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, which helps U.S. minorities attend top MBA programs.

Building a pipeline
Experts say U.S. Hispanics are under-represented in MBA programs, because many never consider business school an option. Growing up with few Hispanic MBAs around, many Latinos have no idea what an MBA can bring them.
And cultural factors inhibit entry. U.S. Hispanics tend to marry earlier, have children earlier and put off graduate studies more than the U.S. mainstream. Some start working earlier to help their families financially. Family pressure sometimes keeps Latinos who pursue grad studies staying closer to home, instead of venturing to top schools located farther afield.

Groups like the National Society of Hispanic MBAs or NSHMBA, strive to surmount those obstacles. The groups aim to build a pipeline of future MBA students, starting out with college undergraduates and in some cases, even extending their programs into high schools. NSHMBA leaders, for example, tour at least a dozen college campuses a year to reach out to Hispanic undergrads, explaining that an MBA can open doors for corporate advancement or to develop their own businesses. NSHMBA also invites some 150 Hispanic high schoolers to its annual conference for a targeted program, “Education for Success,” so teenagers can learn more about MBAs and tell their friends about business school as an opportunity to excel, says Manuel Gonzalez, president of the nonprofit group based in Irving, Texas.

Laying the Groundwork

Minority advocates often reach out beyond students too, since Latinos tend to take decisions more collectively than the U.S. mainstream. They urge candidates to talk with parents, spouses and friends, so loved ones comprehend why they’d spend two years studying full-time for an MBA at a cost up to $100,000 a year.

Brazil-born Rodrigo Malta, an MBA who handles business school admissions at the University of Texas, knows the challenges first-hand. “My own mom said to me: “I understand why you get a law degree or a medical degree. But you have a college degree, and don’t you already have a job?” Malta recalls. “So, I clearly explain to students that an MBA opens doors. You become well-versed in different things: accounting, finance, marketing, so you have more options for work in different areas. It’s an investment in your future. Then, I say to MBA candidates: Whoever your significant others are, have this conversation with them.”

Preparing Early

But greater Latino interest—and even family support—won’t ensure entry into MBA programs, especially to top schools where corporate recruiters are most active. That’s why schools and others often work with nonprofits that help prepare Hispanics and other minorities for admission.

Those groups include Management Leadership for Tomorrow, a career development program for high-potential minorities, and the Riordan Programs of Los Angeles that coach recent college grads just entering the workforce on tests, essays and interviews.

Latinos seeking MBAs are wise to start preparing early and leverage assistance programs to qualify for entry to a top school, says MBA student Carolyn Inoa. She’s a Dominican raised in New York City, who earned a bachelor’s from Harvard and now is studying at the University of Chicago with a prestigious Toigo Foundation Fellowship. Inoa says admission to a top school requires buckling down early to study for the GMAT entrance exam. “If you’re serious about attending a top MBA program, you have to put in the time and hard work necessary to perform well on the test,“ Inoa says. It also means figuring out what you really want from an MBA program and your career and personal goals. “Dedicating time to introspection will ultimately make you the kind of focused, thoughtful candidate that business schools seek,” says Inoa.

Selection and Finance
Yet even well-prepared Hispanics face the challenge of picking a school and paying for it. Experts suggest students consult college counselors, NSHMBA and other minority advocacy groups; study school rankings and programs; and most important, visit schools to understand their culture. Options abound, from full-time to part-time programs, those crafted for working adults and even distance learning. Columbia’s Executive MBA, for example, is launching a 20-month program for managers in the Americas who cannot attend frequent classes in New York. It meets about one week per month in New York and for residence weeks in San Francisco, São Paulo and Toronto.

MBA costs can be high, but many graduates say the degree pays for itself with better salaries later. Schools increasingly team with non-profits to help Latinos with scholarships and other financial aid. Five years ago, NSHMBA’s University Partnership Program featured just 22 schools providing $241,000 in student funding. Last year, the program reached 63 schools and $2.1 million in financing. And this year, the total should jump again, with 67 schools active.
“The universities assign part of their MBA scholarships to Hispanic students, and in return, we promote them through our NSHMBA chapters and on our website,” says NSHMBA‘s Gonzalez. “At the end of the day, it’s good business for everyone.”

Some schools also tout scholarships funded by corporate partners. Stanford’s Charles P. Bonini Partnership for Diversity, for example, defers MBA admission for one year, so minority fellows can work at Eli Lilly—no experience at pharmaceutical firms needed. Eli Lilly then foots the bill for fellows as needed, says Lizabeth Cutler, Stanford’s associate director of MBA Admission.

Networking at school

Next comes the issue of engaging Latinos on campus and making them feel at home. Many schools offer Hispanic or Latin American student associations. Some schools encourage both groups to merge, so that U.S. Hispanics—often from working-class backgrounds—mix more with Latin Americans—often from affluent families.

Stanford’s Hispanic Business Students Association organizes an annual award banquet to honor an alum for leadership. Students pick the winner. The event gives students a chance to meet Hispanic MBA graduates and others in the Latino community, says Stanford’s Cutler. Yale’s MBA program last year started a diversity advisory group to help the school become more inclusive. Students lead the group, which also includes faculty and admissions staff. “The group gives the students real power and real collaborators” to push their ideas, says faculty advisor Heidi Brooks, a professor of organizational behavior. Yale also encourages its Latino MBA students to meet graduates from similar backgrounds to help them adapt. “Just recruiting Hispanics doesn’t mean they’ll mix. It really makes a difference for a Mexican student to meet a Mexican alumni, so we try to connect them directly,” says Brooks. “Sometimes, it’s just a question of them eating a familiar food.”

internships and jobs

For internships and jobs, schools and nonprofits increasingly collaborate with companies that seek Hispanic MBAs. The University of Miami business school, for example, teams with  multinationals that have U.S., Latin American or global headquarters in South Florida, including Bacardi, Diageo and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. It specifically links with companies active in Latin America to help Latin American students who wish to return to their home countries to work, says Mary Young, who heads career services at the school.

For some business schools with less pull in corporate America, partnerships may involve travel. The MBA program at Florida International University, for example, is 52 percent Hispanic. But with few Wall Street firms recruiting on campus, the admissions staff is leading a group of students to visit the New York companies. “Our female Hispanics should be like gold for companies with diversity programs. You are hitting two subsets at the same time,” says John Nykolaiszyn, associate director for career services at FIU’s business school.Some students travel on their own. Diana Marrero, who just earned her MBA at Georgetown, says attending NSHMBA’s annual conferences gave her a chance to talk face-to-face with recruiters from Fortune 500 companies that may not have visited her campus. Born in Cuba and raised in Miami, the journalist is now starting on the business management track at The Washington Post.
“I don’t think I could have made the career transition I’m making now without the degree,” says Marrero, who studied on a Georgetown-NSHMBA scholarship.

Networking after school
For long-term career advancement, schools increasingly rely on alumni networks. Stanford began an online Hispanic Alumni Association Directory nearly a decade ago to help Latinos connect. Older Latinos in the workplace sometimes serve as mentors for more recent graduates. NSHMBA in March launched an online job site, Nektpro, that links companies with MBAs. The site (http://nshmba.pro.adicio.com/) gets more than 150,000 hits a day. It’s the only job site with exclusive access to a database of NSHMBA members. “What you put in is what you get out,” says NSHMBA’s Gonzalez, urging members to fill out robust profiles to improve chances for companies to court them on the new site.

Hispanic MBAs outlook

Diversity advocates are optimistic that U.S. Hispanic enrollment will grow at MBA programs in the coming years, as partnerships expand among schools, nonprofits and corporations. It helps too that more U.S. Latinos are entering their 20s and 30s, the age that most people attend MBA programs, says Aranda of The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management.

Aranda figures the share of Hispanics in top MBA programs can double to at least 7 percent in a decade. “The challenge is that we have this corporate machine that is constantly looking for future leadership talent at the same top 50 schools,” says Aranda. “We need to get minorities into those 50 schools.  If Hispanics begin to prepare earlier, they would be highly visible to the top schools.”•

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