Why UNC Enrolls So Many Online MBAs Without A GMAT

UNC’s Sridhar Balasubramanian

As promised, I am following up with a more detailed email regarding the inaugural MBA@UNC rankings from Poets&Quants. As you know, we were ranked #20 on this list.

We would like to share some information with you that will provide some context and offer some perspectives.

First, UNC Kenan-Flagler decided to not participate in the survey for logistical and other reasons. This was the first year that Poets&Quants launched the rankings and typically Kenan-Flagler foregoes participating in inaugural rankings in order to better understand how the rankings work before deciding to participate. In such cases, we expect to be left out of the rankings. Poets&Quants used some data – the nature of which is unclear and which is likely incomplete and non-representative – to try and rank us.

We are clear about how they obtained and used some of the data. If you look closely at the ranking table, a part of which is reproduced below, you will see a * next to UNC Kenan-Flagler. Take a look at the footnote at the bottom of the table for an explanation of the *. I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions. (* indicates that P&Q was unable to survey the school’s alumni and substituted a score equal to the bottom quartile scores across all of the completed surveys.)

Next, you may not realize this but the school receives rankings participation requests from over two dozen sources and organizations globally each year across its programs. We don’t participate in all rankings out there – we are thoughtful and deliberate about the rankings in which we participate. If we participated in all rankings, we would be so focused on data gathering, organization and coordination that we would have little time to focus on what we really want to do – improve continuously.

Second,  we would like to openly discuss one aspect of the rankings that have drawn us down. This is what the Poets&Quants article says about MBA@UNC: “The acceptance rate for the on-campus MBA program is 37%, nearly 20 points lower than the 55% for its online option. The average 701 GMAT is 49 points higher, but the bigger difference is that 81% of the enrolled on-campus students have taken the test versus just 14% of the online students.”

Overall, this is broadly factual information, but there are a few perspectives I want to share on this.

The MBA@UNC program is structured differently from the Residential program to accommodate the needs of professionals who are working on a fulltime basis. At the same time, it is important to note that the MBA@UNC program is designed to be an equally rigorous and engaging program that targets working professionals who seek to advance in their careers and move to leadership roles in their companies and industries. MBA@UNC does include some students who are similar to those in our Residential program (i.e., typically with a more limited span of work experience) and students who look much like those in our Executive MBA programs (i.e., with significantly more work experience).  Our research on our admissions and student performance data indicates that the GMAT is a poor predictor of performance for students with significant work experience; thus, we tend to waive the GMAT for those students and evaluate those applications based more heavily on their work experience. But even in those cases, we ask for the GMAT if there are any concerns about the quality of work experience or educational background. We evaluate the first (smaller) set of students who typically have a shorter span of work experience similar to the way we evaluate applicants to our Residential program, and expect the GMAT.  We also found that the need to take the GMAT was holding back many of our highest-potential applicants with many years of work experience from even applying to the MBA@UNC program. Poets&Quants seems to have ignored this diversity in our student body and assumed that all students are – or should be – comparable to Residential students. Just as a point of comparison, our MBA@UNC students currently have, on average, double the work experience of the students in the Residential program.

It is not hard for us to change our GMAT policy. But, allow me to say that those of us who are associated with the MBA@UNC program are extremely pleased with the quality of students in the program, the rich range of experiences they bring to the table, and the multiple ways they contribute to enhancing the program and UNC Kenan-Flagler. Know this – I will personally stand behind the quality of our MBA@UNC students any time, any day. That quality of students is something we will not compromise on – we just believe that the GMAT score is a very poor way of measuring student quality for the experienced student. In parallel, the quality of the MBA@UNC program remains strong, with end of term student surveys scoring both the Program Overall and Willingness to Recommend MBA@UNC to a friend/colleague at close to 9.0 on a 10-point scale.

Third, note that any survey that puts such a high emphasis on the weighted GMAT score will be biased against MBA@UNC.  Therefore, it is not clear to us that we should participate in the survey in the years ahead. In that case, of course, we will broadcast that decision to the MBA@UNC community and to the rest of the world.

Finally, as I noted in my earlier email, let all of us – including our students who are a critical part of our community – be focused on our guiding light: high quality learning and development that takes us forward as professionals and individuals, in a happy and productive UNC Kenan-Flagler and MBA@UNC community. That is why we are focused so sharply on how we can enhance your experience. On this front, some initiatives that have been recently implemented, or are in planning, include:

1.     Launching the new Chapel Hill Immersion this year.

2.     Bringing more rigor to the immersions through the required learning assignments.

3.     Breaking up the 4 credit electives into 2 credit electives – one foundational and one advanced – this makes it consistent in terms of credits with the rest of the school and also will allow our MBA@UNC students to more flexibly design their curriculum by taking more electives.

4.     Planning to launch a MBA@UNC Community Newsletter.

5.     Incorporating a regular, informal meet and greet with Doug, myself and others online to exchange ideas and views online.

6.     Special lectures on topics of current interests hosted online.

7.     Continuing to break down the barriers to taking classes and enhancing learning across programs.

8.     Communicating even more effectively about what makes MBA@UNC and UNC Kenan-Flagler really special – there is an entire external website design process in the works under UNC Kenan-Flagler’s new Chief Marketing Officer.

9.     Increased resources focused on enhancing the student experience and coaching for MBA@UNC going ahead.

Let’s not allow ourselves to be defined and constrained by an external ranking. Let us forge ahead by blazing new trails. We look forward to our Greatest Ambassadors – you, our students – continuing to be close partners with us as we move to greater heights in the years ahead.

I hope you will find that I have been open and honest with you in this discussion. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to let us know. Also, do keep your ideas and suggestions pouring in.

With warm regards,

Dr. B


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