How My Online MBA Helped Me Land a 43% Pay Raise and a Place in the C Suite

BY Lake SydneySeptember 30, 2022, 12:22

Eric Scott, currently an online MBA student at the University of Illinois. Courtesy of Eric Scott.

Earning an MBA can involve a huge investment in terms of time and money. Some full-time in-person MBA programs can cost up to $100,000 per year. However, the median cost of earning an MBA from a school on FortuneThe ranking of the best online MBA programs is currently $795 per credit, with most schools requiring 36 credits to graduate. This means that an online MBA can cost around $30,000.

Despite the initial cost, the payoff from an MBA can be enormous. Take, for example, Eric Scott, a current online MBA student at the University of Illinois who enrolled in 2021 and will graduate in May 2023. Since beginning his online MBA program, he has already landed a huge promotion to the C-suite, as Chief Marketing Officer of MDM Commercial, a reseller and distributor of commercial-grade LG digital displays (primarily TVs). In addition, the promotion earned him a 43% salary increase.

During his 17-year career in public relations and marketing, Scott worked for the University of Northern Colorado, the University of North Florida, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Florida Times-Union before working a few years with non-profit organizations. There were a few times in his career when he considered going back for an MBA, but seeing how online education had gotten better, more credible, and more widespread led him to pursue his studies in 2021.

Fortune sat down with Scott to learn more about how his online MBA from Illinois has helped him move closer to his ultimate career goal of being president or CEO of a company.

The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Why do an MBA?

Fortune: How did you decide it was time to get your MBA?

Scott: And I’ve been back and forth over the last 15 years about whether or not I wanted to do my MBA. Having worked for universities in the past, I could have done it for free. But when I worked in those environments I worked in sports, which has a very crazy schedule where you talk 60, 70 hours a week and travel constantly, so not conducive to the type of time commitment that comes with a masters program .

Then I thought about it again in 2013 to enter the University of North Florida. It would have been an in-person program because the online master experience you see today just wasn’t what it was then. It just wasn’t very solid or believable, to be honest with you. I had also become a new dad, so I just realized that was still not a time commitment I could have made.

Fast forward to October 2020, and a friend of mine was telling me he was working on his Masters in Data Analytics online at Georgia Tech. It really sparked something – I was like, ‘Well, if he can do it, so can I,’ especially with some very well-known institutions. In my opinion, I think the stigma of online education not being as credible has disappeared, especially with the onset of the pandemic. It really sparked something in me, so I dug deeper and did a lot of research.

Fortune: Why commit to an online MBA program rather than, say, a part-time, in-person program?

Scott: It’s flexibility. As CMO, I have a lot of demands on this job and on having a family. It’s always a big time commitment, but it’s nice to be able to do everything at home and always be there if I’m needed. But I’ll tell you, Illinois does such a fantastic job, and there’s a reason they have such a fantastic reputation for being an innovator in online education. When you attend the live sessions, you really feel like you are there. It’s so interactive. You can participate in chat groups and the teacher will call you randomly as if you were in class.

Scott: When I started looking around for programs, my current employer at the time didn’t have a tuition reimbursement program. Number one on my mind was the cost. I didn’t want to have an exorbitant amount of loan repayments for the next 30 years. I also really wanted it to be from a very reputable institution. I really wanted to challenge myself. Illinois really ticked the boxes.

I didn’t want to just get into this program and do the bare minimum without being challenged. I wanted to test myself and prove to myself that I could perform at the highest level. I looked at the University of Illinois. I also looked at Boston University, which is another institution with a great reputation, and also very similar in terms of online program innovation, and also manageable costs. I also watched my undergraduate alma mater, the University of Northern Colorado. They have a very strong regional reputation, but I also wanted to choose an institution that had a strong national reputation because I think it just gives you more flexibility.

Fortune: What were your main motivations for obtaining your MBA?

Scott: When I envisioned this time spent on my MBA, I was a marketing director and a member of the leadership team. But for me, I have a number of career goals. I wanted to get to the C suite when I was 40. I’m 38 now. My end goal is to be CEO or President of a company or to be a successful business owner. I felt the MBA would help me get there. Some people can do it without. I look at the current market as it is, and it is becoming more and more competitive. More and more people are getting their master’s degree.

I felt like getting this degree would give me more flexibility in my career and a better ability to compete with other talented people in the job market, while still pursuing my goals. I also work better when I have a structured school career. The MBA in particular is very comprehensive. I want to have a very complete experience, and it would help me strengthen some areas that may have been a weakness for me.

It even helped me become a better leader. I’ve always felt like a good leader, but this takes me to the next level. Along with pursuing my career, there is a better financial situation or an increase in total compensation. Since I’ve been in the program (and graduating in May), I’ve seen a promotion to CMO level and a 43% pay increase. It really is a great move, a life changing experience and so enjoyable all around.

How the MBA Changed His Career

Fortune: How did you leverage your online MBA to land a promotion?

Scott: A big part of that is constant communication with your boss and communicating the value of what you’re learning and the value it brings to the company. Before I even started the program, I told my boss that I had made the decision to get my MBA. I kept communicating how excited I was to start and learn and improve.

One day we sat in his office and he said, ‘Do you want me to pay for this?’ It was a very pleasant surprise. Soon after, we launched a tuition reimbursement program for our company. So pursuing that has really been a catalyst for us.

Checking in, having touchpoints with my boss, and communicating different parts of my learning journey and what I’m learning and the value I bring helped me get promoted. And then just demonstrate it every day. I also bring this to strategy meetings and prepare, having a better knowledge of what we are talking about and being able to guide our teams in better strategic decisions has also helped.

Fast forward to April 2022, last year when I got promoted, it was interview time, and I prepared and was upfront about where I am and this is where I think I should be for these reasons. He agreed and congratulated me on my progress and could definitely see the value I brought from what I was learning from the MBA program.

Fortune: What advice would you give future online MBA students?

Scott: You have to choose the program that suits you best. Definitely seek advice from others as well. Reach out to current students in the program, as not everything you see online will necessarily be the real story. As you go through the research process and the decision-making process, definitely talk to current students and get their perspective on the program – not just the positives, but the negatives as well. It is important to weigh them.

Also, I would say that for an online MBA, you will want to make sure you choose a school that has been at it for a while. You will see, I think there are hiccups along the way because nothing is ever perfect at the start. If being part of a seamless program is important to you, definitely go for a program that has grown online with innovation in mind.

Find out how the schools you’re considering fared in Fortune’s rankings of the best master’s programs in data science (in-person and online), nursing, computer science, cybersecurity, psychology, public health, and analytics commercial, as well as the Ph.D. in education programs MBA programs (part-time, executive, full-time, and online).

Leave a Reply