Few options in business education are more suitable for a certain type of highly accomplished professional than the Executive MBA (EMBA). Sure, there are part-time MBA programmes, the Global MBA option and some others. Rarely, however, do they offer a more aptly tailored curriculum for those with management experience or for the ambitious ladder-climbers just about to break into the executive world.

This is reflected in the remarkably high satisfaction levels among EMBA students, research data shows. The average grade for the degree is 4.1 out of 5, according to the Executive MBA Council (EMBAC), an academic organisation representing the executive education industry. Another survey, carried out by GMAC, suggests that EMBA students are the most satisfied with their degree among all MBA programmes. Of those interviewed, 95% report that they are happy with it and 95% of them say that they would recommend it. Unsurprisingly, the payroll is also excellent. The average salary and bonus package at programme start for EMBA students in a 2014 survey was 155,848 USD, compared with 140,310 USD in 2013. The degree itself definitely impacts the paycheck of alumni. By the end of the programme, the average salary and bonus package of EMBAs rose to 181,965 USD, which is an increase of more than 20,000 USD in comparison with the 2013 figures. This represents an average increase of 16.8% from programme start to programme end for the 2014 - 2015 period. The data also shows that 41% of students in 2014 were promoted during their studies. A total of 2,323 EMBAs from 79 programmes took part in the EMBAC survey.

Money and value

The gigantic boost in pay for MBA students of course cannot be matched, as most EMBAs are already excellently paid at the time of admission. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why 75% of them plan to keep their current employment, compared to just 15% of the full-time MBAs, according to GMAC. Only online MBAs and part-time/flexible MBAs report higher satisfaction with their companies - respectively 88% and 77% of them say they would not switch employers.

Overall, mainly due to the possibility of working while studying, the ROI of the EMBA is excellent. And that goes not just for the more reputable schools, but also for some lesser-known institutions that offer executive degrees. In recent years, many renowned universities, although geographically distant, formed joint programmes, enabling students to feel the truly global nature of modern-day business. In the 2015 Financial Times EMBA ranking, for example, the leader is Tsinghua University/INSEAD and the next 5 places are occupied by schools in partnership too.

READ: The Priceless Value of a Pricey Education

Tsinghua University/INSEAD EMBA alumni report an average salary of 324,115 USD three years after graduation. This represents growth of 80% compared with pre-graduation levels – a huge increase for an EMBA degree. The not-so-famous Rice University (Jones) ranks 40th but still provides superb opportunities: an average salary of 223,307 USD, representing a rise of 49% compared with pre-graduation levels. And there are many similar other examples. Access MBA believes it would be a good idea not to disregard suitable EMBA opportunities just because the programme is more boutique-like or simply doesn't come from a top 50 school. 

Differentiating the MBA and the EMBA degrees

Most often, EMBA programmes allow students to finish their degree in 2-3 years – and sometimes even less – without putting their career on hold. But the EMBA degree has merits other than the solid investment choice and the flexible work-study rhythm. Ever since 1943, when Chicago Booth started the first executive education degree, the goal was not just to form global leaders, but to provide businesses with talented people that would develop them into truly global institutions. The pace of globalisation today accelerates, intensifying the need for the sort of managers who understand the importance of worldwide expansion.

READ: A Global Education for a Global Leader

Perhaps Michael Desiderio, Executive Director of EMBAC, put it best: "EMBA was born from a need to accelerate the development of business leaders and prepare them for greater leadership responsibilities(...) Business now spans the world – even local businesses are now more than ever looking to the global marketplace, and advances in technology are opening new opportunities. All these changes contribute to a desire to develop and bring to market new products, services and ideas more quickly than ever."

The content of EMBA programmes does not differ that much from that of MBA programmes. Some of it includes Finance, Accounting, Marketing, Leadership, Strategy, Operations Management, International Business, Economics, Entrepreneurship, Ethics, and so on. But it’s the combination of pursuing executive education and continuing a career in management that distinguishes the two degrees. The familiar network-making potential of the MBA may even be stronger for EMBAs, as students know the worth of networking from first-hand experience. In 2014, close to 95% of executive programmes had an alumni networking event, says EMBAC. 

But who is the average Joe of executive education? According to the latest Executive MBA Council survey, he or she is 37.5 years old with 13.7 years of experience. And out of those 13.7 years, participants clocked an average of 8.7 years of managerial experience. The EMBA has long been considered a joint employer-employee endeavour, the former often agreeing to pick up some part of the bill, sometimes all of it. This still holds true, with 35.6% of students having partial sponsorship, 24.6% - full sponsorship and 39.8% being self-funded. 

The state of the economy, however, shifted the weight onto the shoulders of students. In 2008, when the crisis started taking its toll, 33% or one third of students enjoyed full sponsorship.

READ: How to Survive an Executive MBA

Keeping the balance

With a median price of 74,883 USD for the degree, it certainly does not come cheap. However, it is worthwhile as long as it is adequately picked and suits the overall individual profile, professional experience and career plans of the candidate. Since it is mostly mature people that choose to follow the EMBA road, it would be wise for the ones with spouses and children to make sure they make enough time for their personal lives. This is essential for happiness, even when one's career is a priority.

Some schools recognise this need and pay special attention to students' partners. One way of doing this is by organising events at the programme's expense during which the presence of spouses is encouraged - trips, dinners, orientation tours. "It is a valuable investment because it's important for the students and significant others to know that the school cares about their families", said Gonzalo Freixes, Associate Dean of the EMBA programme at the Anderson School of Management, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in 2008. And not much has changed ever since. Study/work/life balance is crucial for feeling good in one's personal time and being productive at work. Nowadays maintaining this equilibrium seems even more valuable.

This article is original content produced by Advent Group and included in the 2016-2017 annual Access MBA, EMBA and Masters Guide under the title “Fortune Favours the Prepared”. An online version of the Guide is available here.