Where Could an MBA Take Your Teaching Career?

Discover why an MBA could lead to a successful career in education

Teaching is an enormously rewarding career. Teachers are frequently cited as among the most satisfied of all working professionals, owing to their ability to have a positive impact on young people’s lives.  

It is unusual for an MBA student, who will be groomed to secure senior leadership positions in the private sector, to enter the mostly-public teaching profession, but not unheard of. The QS MBA Applications and Aspirations Report 2018 shows that nearly 10% of MBA applicants are considering a career in education.

According to Stephanie Petropoulos, a director at Teach for America, the career options for business graduates in the profession “are truly endless. Many alumni go on to leadership positions in non-profit education, for-profit education, education technology and innovation, and public policy”.

For example, Casey Stansifer is a 2017 graduate of a new education MBA at Kelley School of Business at Indiana University in the US. He credits the leadership skills he developed while on the course, for his promotion from teacher and department chair to curriculum coordinator — a district-level position that helps teachers to improve learning.

Stansifer says, “My goal is to use the experience in my current position as well as the training and preparation from the MBA…to serve as a principal, to improve the educational opportunities for children in my community, including my own.”

The specialist, 18-month MBA at the Kelley school was established to help develop future leaders in education, one of the most important assets of any economy. It provides teachers with management skills such as organisational strategy, along with three years of mentoring by a faculty member at Indiana University’s School of Education.

The students on the course receive 100% tuition reimbursement, funded by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, a non-profit that supports education.

“This is an additional opportunity for aspiring leaders in school systems to get the training they need to be successful,” says course director John Wisneski. “Based on everyone’s life experiences, people have different skill gaps as they prepare to become leaders in school systems. For those who feel they lack skills in managing others or leading large-scale improvement initiatives, this should be the perfect opportunity.”

The program at Kelley is one of a small number of MBAs that seek to develop leaders in the education sector. At UCL in London, approximately 25 participants are studying for the part-time Higher Education Management MBA. Students in the course come from several countries, such as China, and are mostly head teachers or assistant principals who want to move into regional leadership roles. One student, for instance, became the CEO of a multi-academy trust that oversees several schools in the UK.


Toby Greany, professor of leadership and innovation at UCL’s Institute of Education, says: “If you’re a head teacher in an independent school, you are essentially a chief executive. You may be more focused on teaching and learning, but there is a CEO-like-role in which you need to structure finance, HR, marketing and also report to a board. The MBA helps people develop skills to be successful in learning and leadership roles.”

Other courses seek to do the reverse: to help business graduates become teachers. Teach for America, which provides two years of teacher training, says there has been a marked increase in number of business and management graduates enlisting in its services, from 19,000 in 2006 to 48,000 in 2010, though they are a historically small group of enlistees.

“Business students who join Teach For America want to make an impact in their career after graduation,” says Petropoulos. “Teaching is an act of leadership and requires the application and development of leadership skills that are applicable across sectors.”

Additional skills are transferable from management to teaching, she says, “Management, public speaking, communicating across lines of difference, setting goals and backwards planning to achieve them, for instance.”

Can a business qualification really provide the same preparation for a teaching career as a dedicated teaching qualification? Petropoulos points to a survey showing that 86% of principals were satisfied with Teach for America members, with 82% saying they would hire a corps member in the future, and 88% responding that they would recommend hiring corps members to other principals.

Kelley’s Stansifer says that the one management skill that has proven to be most helpful in his career is the ability to build relationships. “Great leaders can turn an organization around not because of their own intellect, but because they know how to inspire others,” he adds. “Nurturing a collaborative and creative staff as well as a supportive and involved community is essential in generating the buy-in necessary to ensure success.”

Like many teachers, he was inspired to enter the profession because of a fantastic, influential teacher he had as a child. Stansifer admits that he was hesitant about the idea of implementing business practices in education. After all, teachers aren’t looking to maximize profit; they want to help people grow.


However, now he recognizes that business practices “will mean better schools and more opportunities for students. We are dedicated to serving students and their families, and this program has given us tools to do just that”.

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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