Rochester Simon Becomes First B-School With STEM-Certified MBA

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

The University of Rochester’s Simon School of Business will become the first U.S. business school to gain full STEM designation for its full-time MBA program.

With international applications down at most U.S. business schools due to the increased uncertainty in obtaining H1b visas and the anti-immigration rhetoric in the U.S., the change puts Simon in a stronger position to attract the best candidates from outside the U.S. That’s because students receive an additional 24 months optional practical training (OPT), which helps to bridge the gap between a student visa and a work visa.

The federal government created the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) designation program to help employers deal with the shortage of qualified workers in those fields. STEM designated educational programs make it possible for international graduates, who can now hold U.S. jobs for only 12 months, to remain stateside for an additional 24 months after graduation and receive training through work experience.


Last year, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business added to its full-time MBA program a certificate in management science and technology management that allows students to be STEM-certified (see Fuqua Hikes MBA Appeal To Internationals). Two years ago, the University of Wisconsin School of Business gained STEM certification for two specializations–supply chain management and operations and technology management–in its MBA program. And many more schools, including Rochester, boast specialty master’s programs in quant heavy business disciplines that also are STEM certified.

But Rochester Simon is the first and only business school in the country to offer a STEM MBA option regardless of a student’s specialization. “We didn’t want to separate groups of people and create sub-sections of the MBA,” explains Simon Dean Andrew Ainslie. “So we put together a STEM program where any student can do any specialization whatever and be STEM certified at the end of the program.” Simon offers MBA students ten specializations, from brand management and product management to strategy and technology.

The school leveraged its quant-heavy curriculum with a strong focus on analytics and economics to gain STEM designation. The change is being rolled out and available to incoming first- and second-year students. Simon was in a unique position to take advantage of the opportunity. From the business school’s earliest days, Simon adopted an academic approach that has leaned heavily on economics and the application of empirical research in every business discipline. Under William H. Meckling, who served as the school’s second dean from 1964 to 1983, the business school recruited young faculty who used an economics-lens to examine business challenges. Meckling’s work with Michael Jensen, who would later leave to join the faculty at Harvard Business School, resulted in pioneering work on agency theory, a framework to explain relationships and self-interest in organizations.


“It’s because in 1968 then Dean Bill Meckling fired the OB (organizational behavior) faculty,” notes Ainslie, who left UCLA’s Anderson School in 2014 to became dean. “Since then, the key thing is our core classes are so quant that it gave us a huge percentage of STEM classes before you start the electives. We are so quant that actually I am kicking myself for not doing this four years earlier. It works very well for the way we are differentiated.”

Simon witnessed the positive impact of STEM designation in its portfolio of four specialty master’s programs. Simon gained for its MS in marketing analytics and MS in business analytics in September of 2016. The school added STEM designation to its MS in finance in December of 2016 and to its MS in accountancy in July of this year. Applications surged by 41.4% for all four programs to 4,104 in 2017-2018 from 2,903 in 2013-2014.

“Much to our surprise, our U.S. applicant pool went up as well,” says Ainslie. The MS in business analytics program has been like watching a rocket take off. We went from 50 to 60 applications when we introduced the program to over 1,100 this past year. I am sure the growth results from a combination of reasons so I can’t be sure how much of it you can attribute to it being a STEM-certified program.”

In the 2017-2018 admissions cycle, the school received 905 applications for its small full-time MBA program, with 208 from domestic candidates. That’s up from 660 in 2013-2014, with 152 domestic applicants. The school, which now has a total full-time MBA enrollment of 1o5 students, said that most of the growth in MBA applications came between 2014 to 2015 (+13%) and 2015 to 2016 (+23) after Simon cut the cost of its MBA program (see Rochester Slashes MBA Tuition By 13.6%). Domestic applicants rose by 39% after the tuition reduction in 2016.


Ainslie expects to get additional gains in application volume as a result of having STEM designation for the full-time MBA experience. “We’ve held our own in every year and in a couple of years we’ve way up. The price drop two years ago was hugely successful, with applications up 40% up over two years. So we are more than holding our own, and this is definitely going to hop up the number of foreign applicants.

“For the MBA program, it is a great signal to the marketplace that we are giving students these analytical skills that are so valued in the workplace. In consulting, we tend to be on the more analytic side. We put a lot of people into pricing as a specific consulting area. So this is a signal to recruiters about the quantitative and analytical nature of our programs.”

While the chance is in sync with the greater emphasis placed on analytical skills by MBA recruiters, however, the most consequential impact of the change will be on international students who want to stay and work in the U.S. “Getting 36 months on an OPT work visa is trivial compared to the exercise you have to go through for an H1b visa,” says Ainslie. “A company doesn’t have the massive expensive of a lawyer and paperwork. Every recruiter is used to this and knows how to do the paperwork on their side.


“With 36 months on a work visa for a STEM-certified job, it gives a student three attempts to get an H1b visa instead of one,” adds Ainslie. “Secondly, in those three years you might be able to get to other optios, including straight to a green card. It is an extended period during which an employer can decide whether they like the employee and vice versa. Right now, for any foreign student, it’s been something of a scary moment. Quite a few companies have pulled back from offering foreign students jobs. This will open a lot more doors for our students.”

The rules require that at least 50% of the class work in a course are in STEM topics. For Simon, that has meant retooling several courses, largely electives, to insure they meet the standards for STEM designation. Managerial Accounting and Performance Measurement (ACC 410), a popular elective that had largely been taught via case study, was modified so that it would have a significant data analytics component with MS Excel and Stata being the primary data analysis tools used. Simon also introduced new courses, such as Quantitative Finance with Python (Finance 418), an offering that equips students with the tools necessary to build and use quantitative models for financial decision making.

The reengineering of Simon’s courses, moreover, has occurred as the school has gone through a curriculum revamp. Among the changes, electives have now been introduced earlier into the first-year curriculum so MBA students have expanded opportunities for electives before the start of their summer internships. The school also increased its leadership and professional development content to meet recruiters’ needs and market demand.


“When the STEM option showed up a year ago, we started going through class by class with the faculty,” says Ainslie. “So there has definitely been some change at the course level, partially driven by a completely new curriculum and the STEM certification.”

Next year, Simon will move from a quarter system to a more traditional full semester system. “About 80% of the top 50 business schools are on semesters because so many major recruiters

have a semester-oriented recruitment period for interns and full-time employees. Moving to semesters allows us to be in sync with the market.

“Everything has been oriented around what the recruiters need. Recruiters have been saying to us that it is very hard to find talent in the U.S. and very hard to employ foreign students because of the uncertainly around the H1b visa. This is a big win for both of us.”


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