Why MBA applications are dropping—and what schools are doing about it

In the booming economy, students want something different from traditional MBA programs, and colleges are rushing to serve them, writes Joyce Gannon for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Enrollment is falling at MBA programs across the United States. This year, more than 70% of schools saw enrollment declines in their full-time MBA programs, reports Gannon.

These declines are likely due to the strong economy, suggests Karen Donovan, associate dean of graduate programs and executive education at Duquesne University’s Palumbo-Donahue School of Business. "Typically, students are not going back to school when they have good jobs," she says.

Students who do choose to enroll in an MBA program today are typically looking for specialized training that can help them advance in their current careers, Donovan explains. Duquesne has responded to this demand by offering a one-year hybrid MBA Sustainable Practices degree.

See more: Who are the students in your programs for working professionals?

Other schools are creating niche MBAs as well. For example, Chatham University offers a specialized dual-degree program that pairs MBAs with master’s degrees in sustainability or food studies. Both Duquesne and Chatham allow students to take classes online and in hybrid formats.

"Students like the online classes because it gives them flexibility," says Donovan. "Online, they still have interaction and can come to campus and meet with the faculty."

Business schools are also offering more flexibility with scheduling. Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU) Tepper School of Business is planning to open a new part-time MBA option for working professionals next fall. The program will combine online classes during the week with immersive weekend experiences six times a year on campus. The program will be modeled after Tepper's hybrid program designed for students who live far from campus.

"I think it gets back to the changing nature of work," suggests Kate Barraclough, head of Tepper's MBA program. "The workday now seems to be endless. We're hearing from students that this is a heavy lift: Their job is intense, work hours are unpredictable, they may need to travel, and some have a young family."

Allison Braund-Harris, a current student at CMU, credits the flexibility of Tepper's MBA hybrid program for making it possible for her to balance her studies with a full-time job. "I can't commit to being in one place on a Tuesday night for three years," she says. Plus, the weekend sessions and social outings "build camaraderie," she adds. "That adds another level of engagement. We see their families, so you’re much closer than you think an online MBA would be" (Gannon, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/10).


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