Is The Full-Time MBA Dead?

Crisis illustration

Crisis illustration

With every bump in the economy there seems to be a segment of people who proclaim the demise of the MBA. When economic clouds gather, these prophets look skyward for any sign that the MBA is losing relevance in today’s fast-moving economy. Yet according to the 2015 Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) Application Trends Survey Report, overall applications for full-time, two-year MBA programs are up compared to 10 years ago.

The picture isn’t consistently bright everywhere. GMAC’s findings reveal a more complex situation for specific regions in the U.S. compared with last year. The survey noted that full-time, two-year MBA applications have surged in the South, with 68% of schools citing an increase in applicant volume, and the West, 64% were up. The Northeast, however, reported a 52% of schools saw a decline, along with the Midwest, which had 47% citing a decline in applications.

But while the Northeast is currently experiencing a drop in applicants, the Simon Business School at the University of Rochester is experiencing the exact opposite.

Andrew Ainslie, Dean of the University of Rochester's Simon School

Andrew Ainslie, dean of the University of Rochester’s Simon School

ROCHESTER’S MOVE TO REDUCE TUITION COST

At the Simon Business School, we have moved rapidly to institute some major changes in our approach to stay ahead of the game. We’re bucking the trend in the Northeast by growing our overall applications by double digits and increasing the number and quality of our student population.

We kicked off the 2015-2016 school year with new ideas designed to expand our full-time applicant pool and grow enrollment. After conducting some research on the relationship between the sticker price of the MBA program and business school rankings, we announced a price change for the full-time MBA program in August 2015. Pricing moved from a credit-hour basis of billing with an advertised sticker price of over $105,000 to a flat-rate price of $92,000 for the two-year program.

Our staff resources were deployed to fully focus our efforts on the fall 2016 MBA application pool, and we introduced changes in our sales outreach at key points in the recruiting cycle. The targets of our focus were full-time MBA candidates with more full-time work experience than past recruiting plans, with a professional and personal work profile that indicated we could maximize their future earning potential.

Our ground game complemented our strategy. Simon’s admissions team attended 72 events around the U.S. and the world to recruit top MBA and MS talent, and hosted 20 on-campus events for prospective and admitted MBA and MS students. Attendance at these events was up 52% compared with last year.

BIG JUMPS IN APPLICATIONS 

Additionally, we hosted a number of students for individual campus visits and experienced a 21% growth in visitors compared with last year at this time. Over the past year, we aggressively connected to candidates taking the GMAT or GRE who have a demographic and academic profile that our analysis indicated would be a fit for a Simon MBA or MS program. We were also aggressive with email outreach and mailings, something we believe helped us to attract more prospective students to Simon.

The strategy and tactics we employed have paid off. Despite declining domestic GMAT test-taking over a multi-year period, decreasing application volume, and flat domestic volume in the Northeast and Midwest, Simon has seen:

  • A 22% increase in total applications submitted for 2016;
  • A 39% increase in domestic applications;
  • An increase in the quality of applicants in GMAT, GPA, and average years of prior work experience;
  • A projected enrollment of 100 to 110 students for the class of 2018, with roughly 50% domestic students and an academic profile comparable to our class profile last year of 667 GMAT and 3.40 GPA.

In a time when fewer people are applying for other advanced degrees such as law, business schools seem to be an increasingly popular destination for career-minded professionals seeking a graduate education. As I have said before, the full-time MBA continues to be a sought-after credential because graduates continue to see a high return on investment. Not only do they see this in terms of their earning potential, they see it in their job satisfaction and personal fulfillment as well.

Andrew Ainslie is the dean of the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School. 

  • We found Dean Ainslie’s commentary interesting and reviewed our data to see what these application trends might mean in terms of enrollments. Eduvantis looked at its database of 476 full-time MBA programs reporting to USN&WR and analyzed the 5-year enrollment trend of the 201 schools that had reported enrollments every year from 2011-2015. What we found is that, nationally, full-time enrollments have also been increasing over the past two years.

    While full-time enrollments fell by 13% from 2011 to 2012 and 8% from 2012 to 2013, they then rebounded and grew by 8% from 2013 to 2014 and again by 3% from 2014 to 2015. While the growth has slowed and enrollments are still down 9% in total from 2011 to 2015, this is still a positive trend for the full-time market. Both of these applications and enrollment trends are indicators that will be very important to track moving forward in order to truly understand how the full-time market is trending over time.

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