USC Marshall Reaches Gender Parity

USC’s Marshall School of Business is the first major U.S. school to reach gender parity in its full-time MBA program

The University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business has become the first major business school in the U.S. to reach gender parity in its full-time MBA program. The school reported that 52% of its incoming MBA students this fall will be women, a whopping 20-point percentage jump from just 32% last year.

Many of the top schools have been working hard to increase the women in their MBA programs in recent years but have fallen far short of the 50-50 mark. Last year, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business were at the high end, both with women making up 44% of the Class of 2019. The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and the Yale School of Management followed closely with 43% each.

Five years ago, only three of the top 25 U.S. schools had 40% or more women enrolled in their MBA programs. Now nearly half do (see MBA Programs With The Most Women). The emergence of Marshall as the school to break the 50% mark, however, is a big surprise, largely because the school hadn’t yet reached the 40% level.

Marshall’s breakthrough is a stunning development. Only seven years ago, in 2011, Elissa Sangster, executive director of the Forte Foundation, had pretty much given up hope that female enrollment at business schools would ever equal the 50% levels at law or medical schools. “I would just like to see us get to 40 percent,” she then told Poets&Quants (see Why More Women Go To Law Or Med Schools).“I’d like to see the day when a school puts together teams of MBAs and they just don’t have one woman. It’s been a decade, and we’ve seen it move a few points. But I don’t think we’ll get to 50 percent.”


USC Marshall Dean James G. Ellis

But a number of things came together to help the school, ranked 20th by U.S. News this year, achieve its new record of female admits. “The quality of the pool was strong and the yield was good, and it all fell together nicely,” says Dean James G. Ellis. “A lot of our students were helping with recruiting and we always use alumni because our Trojan family network is so damn strong. “Some of positive reputational stuff transpired along with a rankings increase really helped. Our efforts pulled the right quality of students in. All of a sudden 52% jumps up and it’s wow.”

Ellis attributed the school’s success to several factors. Marshall jumped four places in the latest U.S. News ranking to earn its 20th place finish, an even bigger improvement from 2016 when the school placed 31st on that list. Marshall also ranked 20th in the world and 12th in the U.S. as the best place for women to get an MBA, according to the Financial Times in March of this year. Poets&Quants singled out Marshall as one of ten business schools to watch in 2018 (see 10 Business Schools To Watch In 2018).

“What makes me feel best about it is that we know industry is looking for more women for leadership level positions so it will give us a chance to satisfy those needs from our employers,” adds Ellis. “Every organization is looking for more women. The need runs from boards to senior leadership down to entry level.”


Bucking a downward trend in application volume, Marshall saw a slight increase in applications to 2,017 from 1,998 last year. The average GMAT score for the newest class of 221 students is 705, up slightly from 703 a year earlier, while the average undergraduate grade point average rose slightly to 3.50 from 3.48. While reaching a new record for women, Marshall also hit a new record on underrepresented minorities who represent 21% of the domestic students, up from 16% last year. International students compose 30% of this year’s incoming MBA students, down a single percentage point.

But the big change occurred in yield, the percentage of admits who ultimately enroll. The yield on women for this year’s entering class, which started orientation on Monday, soared to 40.1% from 31.3% for last year’s entering class. Overall, Marshall’s yield for its full-time MBA program last year was

38.7%. The school then admitted 581 candidates and enrolled a class of 225 students.

The increase in women also wasn’t a function of a significantly larger scholarship spend. “Surprisingly, we did spend a little bit more in scholarship money.” explains Evan Bouffides, assistant dean and director of MBA admissions at Marshall. “If you account for the difference in tuition, it was almost a wash.”

Asked if he thought California helped his school get to gender parity, Ellis wasn’t entirely sure. “It’s a tough one to figure out whether location matters. but California is a desirable place to work and you have Los Angeles and the Valley that are two centers of work that are continually looking for people. California is a place where graduates are going to get some good placements on the other end of the program. There is a lot of growth coming out of here and you can feel it. There is just an energy out here.”

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