Just one week after news broke that the University of Wisconsin Business School was considering suspension of its full-time MBA program — and following a swift backlash among alumni and current students — the school is backpedaling.
In a message to students, alumni, and other stakeholders, Dean Anne Massey said Wednesday (Oct. 25) that the school had moved too quickly in its plan, announced October 18, to end the full-time MBA in favor of a focus on undergraduate business education and specialized master’s degrees. Now, Massey said, WSB will no longer discuss a planned one-year suspension of MBA program, instead working to strengthen it and the school’s undergraduate program.
“We have heard from our community of students, alumni, and friends; therefore, we are going to stop further discussion of the one-year suspension of the full-time MBA,” Massey said. “We moved too quickly without the broad consultation and discussion that our stakeholders can and should expect.
“We will move forward with discussions on how to grow the undergraduate program and expand the graduate portfolio while simultaneously strengthening the full-time MBA experience. We will be inviting members of our community to help guide those discussions and be part of our efforts.”
SWIFT BACKLASH TO PLAN TO END FULL-TIME MBA
Hundreds of Wisconsin alumni signed an online petition opposing any suspension or elimination of the full-time MBA. Meanwhile, current students met with Massey last week and voiced their strong opposition as well.
“Our voices were heard!” says Ije Obiorah, MBA Class of 2018, who tells Poets&Quants that students credit Massey with the courage to change course when it became clear that she was pursuing an unpopular move.
“We appreciate that Dean Massey had the humility to eliminate the proposal,” Obiorah says. “It’s too easy to succumb to an escalation of commitment, and we’re elated that she had the courage to take a step back and recognize that there are alternative solutions that can be explored without undermining the legacy of the full-time MBA program.”
A NEW DEAN IN A UNCERTAIN LANDSCAPE
Massey herself is new to Wisconsin, being just over three months into her term as WSB’s dean after 21 years as professor and vice provost at Indiana University. She joined a program that, compared to many of its peers, 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 school’s MBA program also 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.
Wisconsin’s proposal to shut down its full-time MBA program came 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 and had been in the red for years on a $3.5 million budget. 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.
WISCONSIN MBA ‘ESSENTIAL,’ ‘CRITICAL’
Yet for all the concessions to economic reality that seem to characterize the debate about the future of the MBA, Wisconsin’s move came as a surprise, and in the end a radical transformation that entailed jettisoning the full-time MBA was more than WSB alums or students could stomach. The online alumni petition urging the dean to “maintain and improve the full-time program rather than dissolve it for lower-intensity MS degrees” quickly garnered more than 700 signatures, with one alum calling the school’s plan “a shocking and illogical proposal” and another positing that for all the good WSB grads have done in the world, “it is essential to maintain the full-time MBA program.” The program, another pointed out, “is critical to the growth of the Wisconsin economy and growth in job opportunities.”
Nor were current students mollified that proposed changes would not go into effect until after their graduation. Instead, Obiorah and others say, they voiced their displeasure to Massey, and now plan to be active in securing the MBA program’s long-term sustainability.
“We, the students, are being groomed to be problem solvers,” she says. “Our MBAs will propel us in our future roles as entrepreneurs, leaders of nonprofits, and multibillion-dollar international conglomerates, and we look forward to using the capabilities we’ve gained from the Wisconsin School of Business to collaboratively be an integral part of developing a sustainable solution for our own full-time MBA program in conjunction with other stakeholders.”
Anne Massey’s full statement to the Wisconsin Business School community:
We have heard from our community of students, alumni, and friends; therefore, we are going to stop further discussion of the one-year suspension of the full-time MBA. We moved too quickly without the broad consultation and discussion that our stakeholders can and should expect.
We will move forward with discussions on how to grow the undergraduate program and expand the graduate portfolio while simultaneously strengthening the full-time MBA experience. We will be inviting members of our community to help guide those discussions and be part of our efforts.
We value the input of our community and will invite our stakeholders to be part of discussions regarding the future direction of WSB.
Anne P. Massey
Albert O. Nicholas Dean
Wisconsin School of Business