RESISTED PRESSURE TO SUBSTANTIALLY INCREASE THE SIZE OF THE FULL-TIME MBA PROGRAM
Gupta came to Olin in 1990 as an assistant professor of accounting after earning his PhD at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. Today, he is one of only five or six faculty members still at the school. His prowess in the classroom was such that students awarded him the Reid Teaching Award eight times since 2001. Yet, eh also has plenty of academic cred, having publishing many papers in leading journals and served on several editorial boards including The Accounting Review, The Journal of Management Accounting Research, Canadian Accounting Review, and Accounting Horizons.
As dean of Olin, Gupta has nurtured unusually close and deep ties to the business community in the St. Louis metro area, a priority of his deanship and a key differentiating characteristic of the Olin Business School. “Olin gives students unprecedented access,” agrees Cliff Holekamp, a senior lecturer in entrepreneurship who is also a general partner at Cultivation Capital. “A student can call up any CEO here and set up a meeting when you say you are from Washington University. You can be big fish in a medium-sized pond as a result.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise of his deanship is that he has been able to lead such significant changes at the school while still maintaining its highly collaborative, intimate culture, one that nurtures strong sense of community and belonging among students, faculty and staff. For that reason, he has resisted pressure to substantially increase the size of the full-time MBA program which takes in 140 students a year. “It’s easy to admit but it is always not that easy to create success,” Gupta believes. “When you have programs that create continued success for your students, you can feel very good about that. We work hard to give students an exceptional experience of learning. We place a very high bar on teaching and student service.”
Instead, student growth has come on the undergraduate side as well as through the expansion of EMBA and specialized master’s programs. The school’s four-year undergraduate business program, which puts freshman in a business course the second day they start classes, directly admits between 165 and 170 freshmen a year, but thanks to transfers, it graduates more than 200 a year. Total enrollment has risen to nearly 950 from 700 ten years ago. Some 200 to 225 students are in specialized master’s programs.
Gupta says he believes the full-time MBA degree, particularly at the best business schools, still provides big value to those who get it. But he notes that the “biggest challenge is the two-year loss of income when MBA salaries have largely been stagnant. You can go back and see 1.5% mean change (in starting salaries) per year over the past 15 years at the best of the best schools. When salary isn’t keeping pace with inflation, let alone the cost of education, it concerns me. The value proposition is changing. It used to be you would get 2X or 3X the salary that you left behind. That’s not happening anymore.”
Yet, demand for undergraduate business majors continues to rise. “Last year,” Gupta says, “every salary for our undergraduates was $65,000. They will be getting close to $90,000 to start in five years. If you get an MBA then I doubt a student will come out with $250,000 back. That is the math. The value of the MBA continues to be there, but it’s a different value and people will have to recalibrate. Still, I feel very optimistic for the market for MBAs. The market isn’t going to disappear, but schools will have to pay attention to how they prepare their MBAS for work.”