As leaders think about the future of professional development, one question probably comes to mind: What is the return on education? In other words, if I invested my time, energy, and resources into an education, how do I determine if it was worth it?

Through a joint effort with LinkedIn, the Executive MBA Council  fielded a survey that aimed to determine just that. What we found was a combination of surprises as well as things we were anticipating. After polling a global sample of over 1,000 alumni of Executive MBA (EMBA) programs, here’s what we learned.

First, 72 percent of the respondents indicated that their EMBA program had a positive impact on their career; meaning it lead to a promotion, salary raise, increase in responsibilities, or career change, or that it assisted in starting a business. Based on our previous exit surveys, this good news was not surprising.

Here’s what was surprising

We asked survey respondents to rank seven factors in terms of their importance when deciding to enter an EMBA program. The most important items were core business knowledge and leadership and collaboration skills. Salary increases came in as the fifth reason, behind opportunities to do fulfilling work and ability to change one’s career trajectory.

There is no educational offering that can guarantee success... However, increasing our skills and knowledge-set raises our value and thus increases our chance of overall business success.

When we asked respondents to rate how EMBA programs delivered on these pre-program decision factors, there was alignment for the top reasons as graduates felt the program delivered well in both core business knowledge and leadership and collaboration skills. Also interesting was the fact that there were no statistically significant differences along gender lines when it came to considering pre-program factors or assessing the resulting impact from the program.

We then went further and asked respondents to rank a series of skills in terms of their importance to their current job and responsibilities. Strategic decision-making skills ranked number one. When rating how impactful the EMBA program was in terms of their development of these skills, strategic decision-making skills was rated highest — showing alignment of importance and impact.

Invest smart

So what does this all mean? Professional development matters. Whether an individual leader or aspiring leader chooses to attend an EMBA program is not really the point. The main point is we each need to do something to increase our individual currency. Of all the investments we can make (stocks, bond, real estate, etc.), we have the most control over the return that comes from investing in our own development.

There is no educational offering that can guarantee success — that part falls to the individual leader. However, increasing our skills and knowledge-set raises our value and thus increases our chance of overall business success.