App Declines At Two-Thirds Of U.S. Schools

by John A. Byrne on

Nearly two-thirds of the full-time MBA programs in the U.S. saw declines in application volume last year, according to a study published today (Sept. 17) by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).  The most severe declines occurred at business schools in the southwest, where 73% reported drops in application volume, and the Midwest, where 71% of the schools reported a downturn.

As reported earlier, some of those declines have been surprisingly steep. Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business saw applications to its full-time MBA program plummet by 21%, Columbia Business School by 19%, Michigan State’s Broad School by 18%, and the University of Michigan’s Ross School by 17%. New York University’s Stern School applications fell by 11.5% and Yale’s School of Management experienced a 9.5% drop.

The Boom & Bust in Full-Time MBA Programs

Source: GMAC 2012 Application Trends Survey

GMAC found a significantly different picture outside the U.S., however. MBA programs in Asia-Pacific and Central Asia are booming. Applications to full-time MBA programs in Asia-Pacific, which includes Australia, China, Japan and Korea, were up at 79% of the schools while those in Central Asia, which includes India and Pakistan, increased 80%, largely as a result of domestic applicants in those countries.

Though many prominent business schools have reported their application numbers, GMAC’s Application Trends Survey is the first and only comprehensive look at worldwide application flow. This year’s study is based on reports from 359 business schools reporting on 744 different business master’s programs in 46 countries, 42 states, and the District of Columbia.

                                       Full-Time MBA Programs Reporting Change In Application Volume

Source: GMAC 2012 Application Trends Survey

Globally, 51% of full-time, two-year MBA programs saw decreasing volume for the incoming class of 2012-2013 compared with last year. However, there was some good news on this front. GMAC said that 24% of programs said the decrease was slight compared with 2011 (less than 10%), and the percentage of programs seeing increasing volume (43%) rose for the first time since 2008. In the U.S., however, only 32% of the business schools said that applications to their full-time, two-year MBA programs were up.

Respondents told GMAC that economic factors around the world are making prospects think twice about giving up a job and returning to school. “The economy is picking up and students are finding full-time jobs or have received promotions and do not want to leave to go back to school for two years,” an admissions official told GMAC researchers.

The study found that full-time two-year MBA programs worldwide received a median of 267 applications, more than twice the median of full-time one-year programs (135) and three-and-a-half times the median of part-time MBA applications (75). The median number of applications worldwide fell 22% in 2012 for the two-year degrees, after a nearly 10% decline last year. It was the fourth year in a row that median applications for two-year, full-time MBA programs declined.

SPECIALIZED MASTER’S PROGRAMS CONTINUE THEIR ROBUST GROWTH

Yet, while full-time MBA applicants fell at many U.S. schools, the study found that other master’s programs, especially online and specialized master’s degrees, more than offset the decline. Some 73% of Master in Management programs reported an increase in applications for the 2012–2013 class compared with 2011, and nine% reported no change. With a combined 82% of programs reporting steady to increased volume, this was the strongest year for Master in Management programs since GMAC began tracking trends for this program type.

“As the global business space continues to become more complex, there is a greater demand that business schools today offer specialized and flexible programs to meet corporate and student needs,” said David Wilson, GMAC president and CEO, in a statement. “Worldwide, these diverse graduate management programs are drawing different kinds of students.  Technology is a part of the solution to this challenge, but it is not the entire solution.  Flexibility in delivery mode, cadence of the program and the characteristics of the class cohort are now all variables in the graduate education solutions being offered.  The message students and companies are sending is clear; one size does not necessarily fit all.”

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