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For MBAs, A Recruitment Slowdown

A new report on recruitment of MBAs and other business master’s students shows signs of a slowdown after years of increased activity. For some, the recruiting landscape is “stabilizing” — but a few key indicators stand out as potential trouble spots, especially for mid-ranked MBA programs.

Megan Hendricks, MBA CSEA executive director. Courtesy photo

The MBA Career Services & Employer Alliance, a global association of business school career management offices and companies that hire MBA and master’s in business students, releases two recruiting trends surveys a year. Its fall 2016 survey, released today (March 23), polled 87 programs, 83% of which are in North America, and found slowdowns seemed to be occurring in key measures across the board. While 41% of schools report an increase in on-campus recruiting for full-time MBA students in fall 2016, and 29% report recruiting as flat, the group’s fall 2015 survey revealed 65% of respondents reporting an increase and only 17% reporting no increase or decrease. That’s a 24-point year-over-year drop.

Similar results were seen for part-time MBA programs — 23% of schools reported a recruiting increase and 50% reported it as flat, compared with 46% reporting an increase in fall 2015 — and for specialized master’s programs, with 23% reporting a recruiting increase and 47% indicating recruiting was flat. By comparison, 55% of master’s programs reported a recruiting increase in fall 2015.

Is this what recruitment stabilizing looks like? Megan Hendricks, executive director of MBA CSEA, won’t say it’s a trend — necessarily. “It’s difficult for us, as an organization, to predict economic conditions or make generalizations about the recruiting market,” she tells Poets&Quants, insisting that member schools “on the front lines of the MBA recruiting environment” are better situated to make such assessments.

PLENTY OF AREAS OF CONCERN FOR MBA PROGRAMS

A slowdown is not a stoppage, and can in fact be seen as stabilizing. But there were bigger signs of concern in the MBA CSEA survey: Full-time MBA programs identifying themselves as ranked from Nos. 21-50 reported the sharpest decrease (42%) in recruiting in 2016; in comparison, in 2015, 83% of this group reported increased recruiting activity. And recruitment of international MBA students, or students without permanent work authorization, continues to be an area of concern, with 51% of schools reporting a decrease in fall 2016, a 13-point jump from the previous fall.

“It’s difficult to say for certain” what might have led to the mid-ranked MBA programs experiencing such a recruiting reversal, Hendricks says. “We have observed in the past that during a strong economy where recruiting is more competitive, companies tend to expand the number of schools at which they recruit. As most companies tend to assess their recruiting needs on a yearly basis due to changing needs, it could be that schools that were added during a strong economy are the first to see a reduction when recruiting is more stable.”

Recruiting for full-time MBA students has especially decreased from large companies (those with over 500 employees), with 58% of respondents reporting an increase in Fall 2015 compared with 36% in fall 2016. Additionally, 49% of respondents in the Fall 2015 survey reported an increase in recruiting by firms outside of their geographic location, which grew to 54% in the Fall 2016 survey. Another noteworthy area in reported growth is recruiting by start-up organizations, which increased from 48% in Fall 2015 to 50% in Fall 2016. Part-time MBA and Specialized Masters programs also saw an increase in recruiting from start-up firms, which is consistent with previous years.

Fifty-two percent of schools polled in the MBA CSEA survey are public; 81 of the 87 have full-time MBA programs. Eighty-five percent of responding schools will graduate 300 or fewer MBAs this year.U.S. POLITICS PLAYS A ROLE ONCE AGAIN

About those international students. While just over half of schools (51%) reported a decrease in the recruitment of international MBA students (compared with 38% reporting a decrease in fall 2015), the picture was not quite as gloomy for international students in specialized master’s programs: 27% of schools reported that recruiting for those students had decreased, but 55% reported it remaining the same. Last year, 18% of schools indicated a decrease for specialized master’s international students, and 71% indicating it remained the same.

MBA CSEA also collected anecdotal comments from schools about international students, as well as responses to a follow-up survey. It found survey respondents reporting increasing caution among employers because of uncertainty around U.S. immigration reform.

“Students gain so much from being in a diverse, international classroom experience, so it’s important to have diverse, global opportunities for them to apply this learning at graduation,” said Jamie Belinne, MBA CSEA president and assistant dean of the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston, in a news release. “This is part of why MBA CSEA’s European and Asian conferences have grown so much this year.”

Adds Hendricks: “The challenges associated with the current state of the H-1B visa program in the U.S. are well-known and covered frequently in the media. Many of our U.S.-based member schools are graduating increasing numbers of international students who end up competing for the same number of visas each year through the lottery system. We’re hearing from schools that companies are increasingly cautious right now due to the uncertainty about immigration and the H-1B lottery.”