After a 40-year run, Simmons College is closing down the only full-time MBA program for women, a victim of the rankings game and more aggressive efforts by other business schools to recruit young professional females into their MBA programs.
The decision to close the program fell to Cathy E. Minehan, who became dean of the School of Management four years ago. Minehan, who has an MBA from New York University, retired as president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in 2007 after spending 39 years with the bank.
In an on-campus meeting on Tuesday with students and graduates, Minehan said the school was not large enough to compete as a brick-and-mortar business school with efforts by highly ranked MBA programs that have stepped up their efforts to recruit and enroll more women. So the school will begin offering online versions of two MBA programs next year with $74,000 price tags. The message was not greeted very warmly.
‘A CONTENTIOUS AND EMOTIONAL” DECISION THAT SHOCKED STUDENTS & ALUMNI
Erin McElrath, a recent alumna who attended the meeting, told WBUR, Boston’s public radio news station, that the decision was “contentious and emotional” as dozens of graduates and some current MBA students expressed shock upon hearing the news. “Some of them say that, considering the dearth of women on corporate boards and in technology companies, shuttering a women-only business school on the ground in the U.S.’ second-largest tech sector is a mistake,” reported WBUR.
In an email to Simmons administrators, another alumna also criticized the move. “You’ll ignore the school’s founding mission and the fact that women are still woefully underrepresented in MBA programs and you’ll join the pack offering an online MBA, but with no strong differentiated brand to stand on. Good luck!”
Though the school has just enrolled it’s largest undergraduate class, 484 students up from 305 a year earlier, the size of its full-time MBA program has been shrinking and the entire college has suffered several annual revenue declines. The School of Management currently has only 105 full-time and part-time students enrolled in its MBA program, a 38% decrease since 2008, according to a Simmons spokesperson. The school revealed that it enrolled just 20 new MBA students this year and that the MBA program is running a deficit of about $500,000 a year. It was unclear why the increase in the school’s undergraduate population couldn’t make up the deficit.
‘SIMMONS COLLEGE DOES NOT HAVE THE MONEY TO DO IT’
“There are just not enough women who believe that this is the right alternative for them,” said President Helen Drinan at the meeting. She explained that the MBA program brings in $5.5 million annually in tuition but costs $4 million in expenses and another $1 million in scholarship aid just to attract the few people it can. Until recently, added Drinan, the school covered its loss with revenue from other programs but that money has since dried up. “That is unsustainable. Simmons College does not have the money to do it.”
Many alums quickly took to social media to express their anger over the closure. “The real question is whether the school has reinforced its marginalization,” says Stephanie J. Creary, a Simmons alum who is an assistant professor of strategy at Cornell University. Tweeted Marybeth Lamb, “Online only MBA for Simmons? It was the classroom that set this program apart! This is a huge setback for women’s education.”
‘LAUNCHED 40 YEARS AGO WHEN WOMEN WERE NOT WELCOME IN MBA PROGRAMS’
Simmons has reported that revenue for fiscal 2014 slumped about $1.5 million to $122.4 million, the second consecutive year of revenue declines. School officials said the drop was largely the result of a sharp increase in financial aid intended to stem recent enrollment declines. Between 2009 and 2013, Simmons’ undergraduate and graduate enrollment both hit five-year lows in full-time equivalent students, according to the Boston Business Journal.
The program’s demise highlights the difficulty that smaller schools have in competing in a market where the best students naturally gravitate to the ranked graduate programs. But even some schools that have been ranked in the top 100 by U.S. News have struggled in recent years. Last October, for example, Wake Forest University’s School of Business decided to shut down its full-time MBA program after declines in both applications and enrollment over several years. Yet, the school was ranked in the top 50 in the U.S., placing 46th in last year’s Poets&Quants’ composite ranking.
Provost & Senior Vice President Katie Conboy noted that “the Simmons MBA was launched 40 years ago at a time when women were not welcomed in MBA programs. Today, women are recruited aggressively for the MBA wherever it is offered. “ That is certainly true. Harvard Business School began admitting women to its two-year MBA program in 1963 with just eight students. But 41% of this year’s incoming class are women and the School now has 11,000 MBA alumnae around the globe.