Will Wisconsin Be The Next MBA Casualty?

Wisconsin School of Business

The University of Iowa. Wake Forest University. Virginia Tech. Simmons College, Thunderbird School of Global Management.

All of them have shut down their full-time, residential MBA programs or are in the process of doing so. Now, it turns out, the Wisconsin School of Business may be the next insitution to bow out of the market.

Though Dean Anne P. Massey has been in the job for less than three months, the school is now thinking about closing down its full-time MBA program. In an email sent to students on Wednesday (Oct. 18), Associate Dean for MBA Programs Donald Hausch revealed that the school is seriously considering a proposal to shut down its full-time MBA program. The proposal is being reviewed by faculty, which is expected to vote on the issue in November, and Hausch invited students to a town hall meeting next week to discuss the plan with Dean Massey.


None of the school’s leadership could be reached for comment, though the school published a vague, unattributed  statement online. “Higher education, like business, is in an unprecedented period of accelerated change along several dimensions, including technology, globalization, and the changing expectations of students at all levels,” according to the statement. “To advance our standing as a top business school, we must respond to this reality.

“In this vein, over the last several months, the Wisconsin School of Business has been studying how to best serve students and employers. We are currently having discussions within the school regarding the strategic direction of our portfolio of offerings. Included in the discussion is growing our undergraduate BBA and Master’s programs, evolving the focus of our Centers, and considering the future of the Full-Time MBA. Our Evening and Executive MBA programs will continue to provide the flexible options being sought by working professionals.

“These conversations will continue over the coming weeks as part of our governance process. We want to respect that process and allow our proposal to be considered in a collaborative manner that includes students, faculty, and staff.”


The decision is something of a surprise, particularly because Wisconsin’s previous dean had won plaudits for the introduction of what had been thought to be a fairly innovative approach to MBA curriculum. Massey, a long-time professor at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, succeeded Francois Ortalo-Magnes on Aug. 7th. Ortalo-Magne, now the dean at London Business School, may have achieved a lot — including a much-ballyhooed overhaul of the curriculum — but nevertheless saw Wisconsin MBAs’ three-month employment rate drop from 91% when he took over in 2011 to to 88.2%. Meanwhile, despite his emphasis on the importance of rankings, during Ortalo-Magne’s term WSB failed to rise, going from 24th in 2011 to 30th in 2016 in Poets&Quants’ composite rankings.

Anne Massey is the new dean of Wisconsin School of Business

More notably, the school’s MBA program plunged seven places in U.S. News’ ranking earlier this year to place 34th from a much more impressive 27th a year earlier. Among major public universities with full-time MBA programs, Wisconsin is now behind Minnesota, Washington, Ohio State, Arizona State, Indiana, UNC, Texas, UCLA, Virginia, Michigan and UC-Berkeley.

Compared to many of Wisconsin’s peers, the school has generally done little to market and promote its MBA program in recent years. The latest entering class of MBAs totalled only 104 students, with comparatively low representation of both international and female candidates. Non-U.S. students make up only 18% of the latest intake, while women represent just 30% at a time when many of the elite MBA programs in the U.S. now enroll more than 40% of their classes with women and more than a third of their classes with internationals. The average GMAT score fo the latest class is 678, up from 669 a year earlier.

The fact that the proposal to close down the program is now public may very well make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is a critical time for candidates to apply to MBA programs and the news is likely to dampen any enthusiasm left for applying to a program that may not be around in the near future.

“Regardless of the outcome of the discussion, WSB remains committed to all of you currently enrolled within the full-time MBA program,” wrote Hausch in his email to students.


The proposal to shut down the program comes on the heels of an announcement in August by the University of Iowa to shutter its full-time MBA program. Iowa’s program at the Tippie School of Business entered an incoming class of just 54 students his fall. The program had been in the red for years on a $3.5 million budget. With state appropriations falling and budgets tight, it no longer made sense to pour resources into the tiny program. Earlier this year, no less, Tippie’s U.S. News’ MBA ranking plunged 19 spots ito 64th from 45th. It was the proverbial perfect storm.

As reported earlier by Poets&Quants, as a business school in the Big Ten, Iowa’s decision has been something of a wakeup call to many in the MBA market (see Will Tippie Be The MBA’s Tipping Point?) In the aftermath of that decision, Tippie Dean Sarah Gardial has gotten a surprising reaction from some rival deans. They’ve quietly conceded they have been grappling with the same issue and that her decision may help them deal with the political consequences from alumni, students, and faculty of ending their own money-losing MBA programs.

The backdrop to Gardial’s decision was three consecutive years of declining overall applications to two-year, full-time MBA programs in the U.S., a drop that would have been far more severe if not for the rising number of applicants from abroad. But even that offset has disappeared in the wake of anti-immigration rhetoric and a President who has made many would-be immigrant students feel unwelcome in the U.S.


The school is also considering growing its undergraduate and graduate programs as part of a broader review of its degree portfolio. If Wisconsin chooses that route, it will hardly be a novel strategy. In the past five years, one business school after another has inundated the market with specialized master’s degree programs. They are shorter, less expensive and more narrowly focued on a specific discipline, such as business analytics or supply chain management.

In an interview with Poets&Quants shortly after assuming the deanship, Massey gave no indication that the school might shut down its full-time MBA. Instead, she addressed the most recent decline in the school’s U.S. News ranking. “If we are looked to as a leader in business education, a leader in problem solving, a leader in collaboration with other disciplines, the rankings will follow,” Massey said at the time. “That will happen as a result of all that. I’m very much driven by us being significant. I’m not going to sit here and worry about pushing this lever or that lever, hoping that the rankings will follow. If we do these things, they will follow — it’s a natural flow.”


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