What Is an Aerospace and Defense MBA?
November 01, 2022
Both the military and the aerospace and defense industries need capable managers with business savvy. An A&D MBA provides the credentials, skills, and network you need to succeed.
Federal discretionary spending for fiscal year 2022 totalled just over $1.5 trillion. Nearly half that figure—$753 billion, to be precise—was earmarked for national defense. That's no anomaly; defense spending typically constitutes about half of all federal discretionary spending.
The United States spends more on defense than the next 11 highest-spending countries combined. Protecting the homeland and assisting allies isn't cheap, and with worldwide conflict on the rise, the need for a strong American military grows greater. For better or worse, aerospace and defense is a boom industry.
It's also one in need of skilled, trained business professionals. Aerospace and defense (A&D) projects are intensely collaborative undertakings involving engineers, technicians, scientists, military personnel, administrators, supply chain and operations managers, project managers, and many, many others. These endeavors require professionals with business leadership and analytics skills to keep costs down, manage crises, and keep teams focused on critical goals.
Those aerospace and defense business leaders may be in short supply. The management and consulting firm Korn Ferry reports that "the industry is experiencing a perfect storm of talent challenges," making it "increasingly difficult to find qualified talent given the entry of new competitors to the market due to increased demand." An aging workforce and declining interest in defense careers further exacerbate the challenges in this space.
This couldn't come at a worse time, as the A&D industry is rapidly changing. According to Deloitte's latest Aerospace and Defense Industry Outlook, "In 2022, the aerospace and defense (A&D) industry is expected to focus on innovation to develop new technologies and solutions, create new markets and expand growth opportunities."
All of which indicates that now is an opportune moment for business professionals to pursue A&D careers. And not just business professionals—military personnel, engineers, scientists, and many others offer invaluable skills that an MBA can supplement and enhance. Whether you're looking to enter the A&D field or advance within the profession, an A&D MBA can be the credential to bolster your prospects. This article answers the question what is an Aerospace and Defense MBA? by exploring the questions:
- What is an MBA?
- What is an Aerospace and Defense MBA?
- What is an Aerospace and Defense MBA
- Paying for an Aerospace and Defense MBA
- Is an Aerospace and Defense MBA right for you?
What is an MBA?
A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a graduate-level business degree focused on management and leadership development across business functions and industries. MBA curricula typically include core courses dedicated to:
- Business analytics and intelligence
- Business communications
- Leadership and management
- Statistics and quantitative reasoning
- Supply chain management
Some business schools offer only a general MBA, with no opportunity to specialize in a specific skill area, business function, or industry. Others allow students to choose several thematically linked courses to develop an area of concentration or specialization. Students may opt for concentrations in many of the core areas listed above. Other options may include:
- Aerospace and defense
- Global supply chain
- Healthcare management
- Hospitality management
- Human resources
- Information technology
- International business
- Management information systems
- Nonprofit management
- Risk management
- Strategic management
MBA programs typically offer only a few of the choices listed above; none offers them all. You will need to research your intended programs in advance to determine whether they offer the concentration that interests you.
Business schools deliver their MBAs in on-campus, online, and hybrid formats. Students can attend full-time or part-time. Candidates with extensive management experience—depending on the school, that could mean anywhere from five to ten years—should consider an Executive MBA (EMBA) program. EMBA programs are typically more condensed than traditional MBA programs; they teach higher-level content befitting the students' work experience.
What is an Aerospace and Defense MBA?
Like a traditional MBA, an Aerospace and Defense MBA prepares business professionals across business functions. The difference is that the Aerospace and Defense MBA teaches these concepts within the specific context of the A&D industry. Degree programs serve both A&D professionals—including those outside managerial roles—and managers from non-A&D industries who hope to enter the field. What these students share in common is that they bring some form of valuable experience to the classroom.
An A&D MBA program teaches management, marketing, planning, and analytics from an A&D perspective. Case studies focus on A&D scenarios, as do readings and assignments. Guest lectures, site visits, and offsite projects all involve the A&D industry. A student body that typically includes A&D professionals, active military, and veterans ensures that student contributions add substance and value to discussions and projects. It also facilitates valuable networking opportunities.
Aerospace and Defense MBA programs may position themselves as Executive MBA programs, as does the program at University of Oklahoma's Price College of Business. Or, they may straddle the middle ground between a traditional and Executive MBA, as does the Aerospace and Defense MBA at Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. In either case, students complete a concentrated curriculum delivered in a hybrid format—remote (online) learning supplemented by several residencies—over a single year.
Aerospace and Defense MBA programs seek to develop managerial and leadership skills applicable to A&D industries. Students gain awareness of the unique demands of the aerospace and defense business as they learn core business principles and advanced skills and strategies. They also enjoy extensive contact with industry professionals among faculty, visiting speakers, alumni, and classmates, forming valuable connections and sharing enriching perspectives. Many parlay these contacts into new career opportunities.
Careers for Aerospace and Defense MBAs
Career opportunities abound both within and beyond the military for Aerospace and Defense MBA students. The Department of Defense offers a multitude of civilian careers, many of which require advanced business acumen. Active military in leadership and management roles may benefit from an A&D MBA as well. After all, the military has its own business analysts, logisticians, acquisitions and contracts professionals, engineering managers, financial managers, accounts managers, human resources managers, and headhunters. These are all roles in which an MBA confers an advantage.
Out in the corporate world, aerospace and defense constitutes a significant presence. Did we mention that half the federal government's discretionary budget is committed to defense spending? That means lots of commerce in the civilian world for businesses across the spectrum. Your A&D MBA should help especially with major defense contractors. Recent University of Tennessee Knoxville students have included employees at BAE Systems, Boeing, Collins Aerospace, Delta, Elbit Systems of America, Garmin, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, and Raytheon Technologies. They've also included government employees outside the military, including some from NASA.
Does the degree produce results? According to the Haslam College of Business website, the school's A&E MBA graduates include more than 400 leaders in aerospace. That figure includes 200 senior leaders at Department of Defense depots.
Why get an Aerospace and Defense MBA instead of a traditional MBA?
If you already work in the A&D field and would like to advance your career to the management or executive level, an Aerospace and Defense MBA should provide more value than a traditional MBA. That's because an A&D MBA homes in on the latest business trends in the industry. It trains you to adjust your approach to the needs and preferences of A&D decision-makers. It exposes you to the technological and analytical tools most commonly used across the A&D profession. It immerses you in A&D-themed experiential learning, case studies, and group projects. And, it situates you among other A&D professionals from whom you can learn and with whom you can network.
If you have your sights set on the aerospace industry, you may think that an A&D MBA is appropriate only for engineers looking to ascend to managerial positions. That's not the case, however. The aerospace industry needs MBAs in various functional areas, including research and development, manufacturing, maintenance, operations, supply chain management, contracting, budgeting, marketing, business development and human resources.
Can I earn an Aerospace and Defense MBA online?
Only two schools offer an Aerospace and Defense MBA: the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and the University of Oklahoma. Both offer the degree in a hybrid format, meaning that much—but not all—instruction is delivered online. Both programs require several in-person week-long residencies.
As previously noted, Aerospace and Defense MBA programs teach advanced business skills and principles across disciplines focusing on aerospace and defense operations. Over roughly 30 credit hours, these curricula cover:
- Benchmark creation
- Business theory
- Data analytics
- Data management and cybersecurity
- Legal issues in A&D business
- Mergers and acquisitions
- Operations management
- Supply chain and logistics
- Staff empowerment
- Strategic leadership
- Team building
- Quality improvement
- Quantitative methods
Residencies enable students to meet face-to-face with faculty and coaches and to participate in team projects with fellow students. The University of Tennessee Knoxville requires five week-long residencies, four on the Knoxville campus and one near a major aerospace and defense operation headquarters. The University of Oklahoma offers three residencies, two on-campus and one abroad. Neither program includes travel or lodging in its tuition and fees. These additional charges fall to the student (or whomever is paying for the degree; some A&D MBA students receive partial or full financial support from their employers).
How long does it take to earn an Aerospace and Defense MBA?
An Aerospace and Defense MBA can be earned in just under one year. During distance learning periods, plan to spend approximately 20 hours a week on schoolwork. Residency weeks are full-time affairs demanding 40+ hours of your time.
Aerospace and Defense MBA admission qualifications
Aerospace and Defense MBA programs are designed for experienced professionals. They needn't be active military, veterans, or current A&D managers or executives, but they should have some relevant experience. These are accelerated degree programs that presume a solid foundation of business knowledge.
Many students do work in A&D; indeed, some attend at their employers' expense. Many are managers on track for senior leadership positions. They represent a broad range of business functions, including analytics, budgeting, business development, contracting, finance, human resources, operations, and supply chain management.
The University of Tennessee Knoxville lists among its admissions requirements:
- A bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum 2.7 GPA
- "Proof of significant professional achievement and increasing responsibility"
- The endorsement of an employer
The University of Oklahoma does not require GMAT scores. This is not unusual in MBA programs designed for experienced professionals, who have already demonstrated their capacity to handle an MBA curriculum through their career achievements. The University of Tennessee Knoxville requires either GMAT or GRE scores but will waive the requirement for candidates with at least 10 years of relevant professional experience.
Both programs require:
- Official undergraduate transcripts
- A resume
- A personal statement of purpose
Paying for an Aerospace and Defense MBA
Full tuition for the University of Tennessee Knoxville Aerospace and Defense MBA was $72,500 in 2021-22; University of Oklahoma's tuition was $68,000. You may qualify for scholarships, federal financial aid, and federal student loans that can reduce your immediate or absolute cost of attending. In addition, many employers offer education benefits which may significantly defray the cost of attending one of these programs. Likewise, the military offers tuition assistance to both active military and veterans.
Many employers provide financial assistance for continuing education and professional training when the program relates directly to the employee's current or prospective role. Such benefits may require a commitment to remain with the employer for a fixed period, but that's not always the case. Contact your employer's human resources department to learn whether you are eligible for an educational benefit.
Support from the military
The military provides tuition assistance through a variety of programs. Active military can access tuition assistance through the branch in which they serve, provided they meet their branch's eligibility requirements. Coverage extends up to $250 per academic credit, with an annual ceiling of $4,500 per year. The Tuition Assistance Top-Up can be used to increase the overall benefit.
Qualified veterans and reservists who served after September 11, 2001 are entitled to tuition benefits under the Post 9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33). This benefit matches the full cost of public in-state tuition and fees, with additional funding for housing, books, and supplies. You may qualify for additional benefits under the Yellow Ribbon Program.
Is an Aerospace and Defense MBA right for you?
Are you an aerospace and defense professional looking to ascend the corporate hierarchy? A military professional seeking a high-level management role in the armed services? An experienced professional intrigued by the business and opportunities of aerospace and defense? If your answer is yes, this could be the graduate degree for you.
An Aerospace & Defense MBA highlights business concepts and situations uniquely applicable to the aerospace and defense business. You'll learn alongside students and faculty whose shared experiences enhance your learning. Those same peers will form a new professional network that can serve you through the remainder of your career.
As an active member of the military, a veteran, an A&D professional or a business professional looking to enter the aerospace and defense industry, you may qualify for tuition assistance from the government and/or your employer. The degree takes only eleven months to complete, less than half the time of a full-time traditional MBA. When you're done, you'll be primed to advance in a robust industry that shows no signs of slowing any time soon.
According to Deloitte, the aerospace and defense industry suffers a lack of "leadership models that develop and advance business leaders, not only program managers." If you're ready to help fill that void, an A&D MBA may be just the thing for you.
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