Despite his cankerous and cynical personality, Garfield makes us smile.

Take the scenario in which Garfield is staring up at a tree saying to himself, "I'm too tired to climb this tree." In typical Garfield style, he walks away thinking, "Let's just say I did it."

Later Jon sees him wiping his brow and asks what he's doing. Garfield replies, "Pretending to sweat."

Without a doubt, pursuing an online MBA program or a traditional, on-campus program is a tall tree to climb. And unlike Garfield's nonexistent effort and imaginary sweat, it requires real toil and travail and good deal of sacrifice.

You're not afraid of the hard work an MBA degree requires – and you're willing to make the necessary sacrifices ‑ if it's really worthwhile.

As you're researching the true value of online MBA programs, here are some things to consider.

One student's story about the real value of an MBA

Scott Morreale, 45, is quick to admit that getting an MBA degree at Saint Leo University – or anywhere for that matter – was not on his bucket list.

"More than 20 years ago, I was a less than serious student, to put it lightly," he says. "If it wasn't for a Jesuit priest at Canisius College in Buffalo where I was going to school who took me under his wing and became my mentor, I never would have finished."

Today, he can barely believe that he's holding down a 3.85 GPA in as rigorous a graduate business program as Saint Leo's and having "the most positive experience you could imagine."

As an assistant director in Saint Leo's Graduate Admissions Department, Morreale knows that earning a graduate business degree is something he should have started years ago. "There's still tremendous prestige around having an MBA," he says. "And I knew it would help my career.

"But even more than that, I wanted to take on a challenge that would require me to make sacrifices. I wanted to accomplish something that I could look back on and be proud of."

And with just three classes left, it looks like he'll be able to do just that.

Education pays

Generally speaking, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs requiring a master's degree are projected to grow at 22 percent over the coming years, faster than occupations requiring a bachelor's (17 percent) or associate's degree (18 percent).

In addition, bureau statistics consistently show that the more you learn, the amount you earn increases and the rate of unemployment drops.

For example:

  • Workers with a bachelor's degree earn $415 week more than those with a high school diploma, and those with a master's degree earn $210 more than those with a bachelor's degree.

  • Unemployment rates go from 14.1 percent for those with a high school diploma, to 4.9 percent for a bachelor's degree, to 3.6 percent for a master's.

MBA hiring up

The Global Management Admission Council (GMAC), a non-profit organization that serves as a leading source of research and information about graduate management education, conducts a number of annual surveys gathering data from corporate recruiters, graduate students, alumni, and schools.

Results from the council's 2012 survey of employers that recruit on business school campuses, the Corporate Recruiters Survey, indicate that MBA hiring is up. More companies were planning to hire recent MBAs last year, 79 percent, up from the previous year's 72 percent and 50 percent in 2009.

In addition, 60 percent of the survey respondents reported that they continually seek new graduate business school talent.

Earning an MBA to boost your salary

According to the GMACs poll of students in their final year of graduate business school:

  • The salary premium for an MBA. compared with a bachelor's degree is an increase of $40,000.

  • The median salary for MBA hires in the United States is $90,000, but 4 in 5 industries with available data reported a median salary greater than that amount.

  • 46 percent of companies surveyed offer their starting MBA hires a median signing bonus of $15,000.

In addition, data from recent or soon-to-be graduates at business schools worldwide indicates that students who had accepted a new job offer upon graduation reported an average salary increase of 70 percent. The salaries of those who accepted an offer from an internship increased by 84 percent, and the salaries of those who continued working for the same employer went up by 36 percent.

How alumni perceive the quality and value of their MBA

According to a GMAC alumni survey:

  • 3 in 4 employed alumni from the class of 2011 reported they could not have obtained their job without their graduate management education.

  • 4 in 5 graduates from the class of 2011 said their salary met or exceeded their expectations.

  • Alumni across all participating classes recouped an average one-third of their financial investment in an advanced business degree immediately after graduation with a 100% return after four years.

The bottom line

As you're researching the true value of MBA programs, you'll naturally evaluate all the facts, figures and statistics.

But like Scott Morreale, also consider what taking on the challenge could mean to you personally.

After all, it's a tall tree that's going to require a lot of sweat to reach the top.

Are you looking into online MBA programs? What concerns do you have about getting started?

Other posts you may be interested in reading:

Accelerated MBA: What's The Key To Success?

Accelerated MBA Online: A Faster Degree Path

Newest MBA Grads Share Reasons For Earning Degrees

Image Credit: jdhancock on Flickr/Creative Commons