Business Administration

Why You Should Look at the Best Supply Chain Management MBA Programs

Why You Should Look at the Best Supply Chain Management MBA Programs
While this MBA concentration isn't rare, finding the right SCM MBA program can be a challenge. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry June 30, 2020

Does it matter where you get your MBA? It does—even if you're planning to choose a less popular MBA specialization like supply chain management.

MBA and Supply Chain Management Programs You Should Consider

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Supply chains don’t often figure heavily into the traditional MBA curriculum, even though supply chain management (SCM) is a hugely important part of doing business across industries. This may be because Master of Business Administration programs tend to prioritize finance, strategy, and management. If supply chain management is covered, it’s often addressed as part of operations instead of as its own discipline—if it’s even covered at all.

That doesn’t mean that supply chain professionals can’t get a lot out of a traditional MBA program. It often makes more sense, however, for business-minded supply chain managers and other SCM professionals to enroll in specialized MBA programs that devote some—or even most—of the curriculum to SCM and logistics management.

Supply chain management MBA programs are where professionals aiming for the highest-paying positions in supply chain logistics end up. They’re not necessarily looking to transition out of SCM, though this is an academic pathway that could help them do that (so maybe it’s better to say that they’re not looking to transition out of SCM right now). Instead, they’re aiming for the corner office or possibly even the c-suite. Students in SCM MBA programs are often future vice-presidents of supply chain management, directors of supply chain management, and Chief Supply Chain Officers.

While this MBA concentration isn’t rare, finding the right SCM MBA program can be a challenge. In this article about the best supply chain management MBA programs, we cover:

  • What kinds of professionals pursue this degree, and why?
  • Does it really matter where I earn a supply chain MBA?
  • Which schools have the best supply chain management MBA programs?
  • What kinds of courses do students take in these programs?
  • What sets the best MBA in Supply Chain Management programs apart?
  • Can I earn an SCM MBA online from a top business school?
  • Will my salary be higher if I graduate from one of the best SCM MBA programs?
  • Do I really need an MBA to succeed in supply chain management?
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What kinds of professionals pursue this degree, and why?

There are many kinds of supply chain management degrees. Most people don’t associate the Master of Business Administration with SCM. It’s probably more common for professionals in this discipline to earn one of the following master’s degrees:

Specialized MBA in Supply Chain Management programs are geared toward a very particular kind of SCM professional. People who pursue this degree are typically experienced supply chain professionals who go back to school because they want to advance into higher-paying senior or executive positions. Alternatively, they may be happy in supply chain management but suspect they might want to transition later into another area of business management.

There are also dual-degree MS/MBA programs that don’t offer an SCM concentration. Instead, they allow students to pursue a traditional MBA and a Master of Science in Supply Chain Management at the same time. The University of Michigan – Dearborn does have an MBA/MS-SCM program that, according to the school’s program guide, “combines a broad managerial education with specialized training in managing the organizations, people, technology, and resources that transform raw materials into deliverable products.”

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“I’m Interested in Supply Chain Management!”

Experienced supply chain professionals often enroll in graduate programs to advance to senior roles, while professionals in other fields may enroll to transition into SCM careers. (source)

You'll have the business chops to transition out of SCM if you decide this field isn't for you and the knowledge and skills to work in management roles in the various areas of supply chain management. (source)

University and Program Name Learn More

Does it really matter where I earn a supply chain MBA?

The answer to this question depends on what you’re looking to get out of your MBA. In many specialties, the consensus is that unless you enroll in a full-time program at a top-tier business school like University of Pennsylvania‘s Wharton School of Business or Northwestern University‘s Kellogg School of Management, an MBA isn’t worth the tuition.

In SCM, that’s probably true if your goal is to make as much money as possible after graduating. Students in the highest-ranking MBA programs do tend to be top earners. That’s because these programs do so much to support the SCM careers of graduates. Earning an MBA in Supply Chain Management from one of those programs will almost certainly help you advance more quickly.

On the other hand, the fact that there are five local jobs available for every one supply chain management graduate (some of which might go unfilled depending on where you are in the United States) but half of all supply chain managers have master’s degrees suggests that having an MBA from a middle-of-the-road school will be an asset when you’re looking for work—especially if you’re in an area of the country where SCM jobs aren’t as plentiful.

Which schools have the best supply chain management MBA programs?

US News & World Report publishes a regularly updated list of the best supply chain management MBA programs. Their top schools for SCM MBAs include:

What kinds of courses do students take in these programs?

Every school approaches this degree differently. Even so, it’s the most common format for specialized MBA programs is for students to take core courses in business and management in year one and concentration courses in year two. Year one SCM MBA classes might include:

  • Business Analytics
  • Business Skills Development
  • Competitive Strategy
  • Decision-Making for Executives
  • Economics
  • Financial Accounting
  • Financial Management
  • Information Systems Management
  • Leadership Development
  • Marketing
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Project Management
  • Statistics

Year two courses might include:

  • Data Management and Warehousing
  • Decision Modeling
  • Demand Management
  • Global Logistics
  • Global Operations
  • Integrated Logistics Systems
  • International Supply Chain Management
  • Inventory Management
  • Manufacturing Design and Analysis
  • Network Integration
  • Operations Management
  • Optimization and Simulation Modeling
  • Optimization Roles for Operations
  • Research and Negotiation
  • Service Supply Chains
  • Strategic Sourcing
  • Supply Chain Analytics
  • Supply Chain Tools
  • Quality Management

Not all the programs above follow this format. Some programs, whether full- or part-time, devote much more time to core business concepts. In these programs, students might take only four or five classes focused on supply chain and logistics. Others present business concepts in an SCM context, and topics like purchasing, transportation logistics, scheduling, supply chain analysis, operations, and customer service are woven throughout the curriculum.

What nearly all SCM MBA programs have in common is an experiential learning requirement. You will almost certainly have to complete one or more internships, real-world consulting projects, and/or domestic or international business excursions before graduation.

What sets the best MBA in Supply Chain Management programs apart?

The top on-campus supply chain MBA programs and top online supply chain MBA programs have expert faculty and a curriculum designed to not only train master supply chain, operations, and logistics managers but also create future SCM executives. Coursework in these degree programs doesn’t prioritize business over SCM or vice versa. Students graduate with the same skills and knowledge graduates of traditional MBA programs possess plus a broad understanding of supply chain management concepts, best practices, and tools.

Stellar academics aren’t all these programs offer, however. The very best MBA programs with a supply chain management specialization have notable student outcomes. Graduates are hired more quickly, earn more money, and advance faster than SCM professionals who graduated from lower-ranking programs or don’t have advanced degrees. This is by design. Top schools not only offer students robust network-building opportunities but also actually build them into the curriculum. Industry experts give guest lectures. Cohorts are expected to spend time together outside of class. Students visit companies notable for their supply chain and logistics strategies.

Top schools also have relationships with employers in the SCM space. Graduates of these programs tend to find positions in supply chain logistics and operations soon after graduation if they aren’t recruited beforehand.

Can I earn an SCM MBA online from a top business school?

There are some MBA specializations that are not typically found online—especially not at prestigious schools—but the SCM MBA isn’t one of them. There are highly rated online supply chain management MBA programs at:

In general, online MBA programs are comparable to on-campus programs in terms of curriculum, faculty, and experiential learning requirements. Online graduate programs offer more flexibility, but be aware that no online program can replicate the networking opportunities that the best on-campus MBA programs offer.

Will my salary be higher if I graduate from one of the best SCM MBA programs?

The quick answer is “probably.” While the Financial Times doesn’t specifically rank MBA programs that offer a supply chain management concentration, you can sort its business school rankings by average salary to get a sense of how your alma mater will influence your salary. Graduates of Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, for example, earn about $160,000. MIT Sloan grads earn more than $197,000. You should also consider that attending a top business school program may make it easier to advance into the highest-paying positions in supply chain management, like:

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Do I really need an MBA to succeed in supply chain management?

The better question might be ‘Is an MBA in Supply Chain Management worth it?’ You need to think about cost. You’ll pay between $1,000 and $2,000 per credit hour or more in the best supply chain management MBA programs. Don’t forget to add in the cost of books and classroom materials, university fees, and in some cases, on-campus housing. Tuition at the top business schools can be more than $150,000. That can represent an especially big investment if you have to take time off to study—especially in a field where it’s technically still possible to hustle your way into a position in management.

Of course, technically possible doesn’t mean probable or guaranteed. Your chances of climbing to the top of the SCM ladder also depend on where your interests lie. The higher you go up the supply chain ladder, the more people you’ll encounter with advanced degrees. More than half of supply chain management VPs and logistics directors have master’s degrees or MBAs. If you’re aiming for roles like Chief Supply Chain Officer, having an MBA will definitely help you compete. However, if you are passionate about freight or commodities management, a bachelor’s degree might be all you need to succeed.

So, why invest in an MBA? It’s a highly versatile degree for supply chain professionals. After graduation, you’ll have the business chops to transition out of SCM if you decide this field isn’t for you and the knowledge and skills to work in management roles in the various areas of supply chain management. In short, if you want to learn as much as you can about SCM, there are nuermous academic pathways you should explore. But if you want to have lifelong career freedom, you can’t beat an SCM MBA.

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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MBA and Supply Chain Management Programs You Should Consider

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