This week, Cornell University’s SC Johnson College of Business released the profile for its incoming Class of 2020. The data show the school has held steady in nearly all areas, with the exception of two key demographics: women, which are up, and international students, which are down.
As 280 first-year MBAs arrived for the first day of school on Cornell’s Ithaca, New York campus, the class contained 6% more women than the previous year — up to 33% from 27%, an achievement the school attributes to a laundry list of initiatives, including increased scholarships for women who enroll, better conversions among those who participate in the annual Johnson Women in Business event, and an all-around rally by the Johnson community to strengthen and improve the experience of women at the school.
Meanwhile, the fresh crop of Johnson MBAs came up 7% short of last year on the international students front. Essentially, the two figures have flip-flopped: In 2017, 27% of the incoming class were women, 34% international students, but this year 33% are women and just 27% are international.
EXPLAINING THE DROPOFF IN INTERNATIONAL ENROLLMENT
Cornell’s full-time program is currently ranked 14th among top MBA programs in the U.S. by Poets&Quants. This is the lowest number of incoming international students for the program in the last few cycles. Last year’s 34% was a point higher than 2016’s 33%.
“The year-over-year change in our international student enrollment looks more pronounced than it is,” Judi Byers, executive director of admissions & financial aid, tells P&Q. “While we saw a slight decline in the overall number of international submissions made during the 2017-18 season, we offered admission to several more international candidates and were consciously selective to enroll the candidates for which the school is in the best position to support with regard to their career goals and objectives.”
Byers alludes to the strenuous climate facing many internationals, saying, “The challenges impacting international students right now are not unique nor specific to any one program in the U.S.; our approach with regard to international student enrollment is to maintain the global diversity that our community values while also maintaining a high level of support throughout the entirety of the MBA experience.”
The executive director reports that there were a handful of international students who were set to join the latest incoming class, but were granted deferrals to due to visa complications or delays. “In these instances, I want to ensure that the candidates we’ve selected to join our program and community are given the full support they need to successfully enroll,” Byers says.
DECREASE REVEALS A DIVERGENCE FROM PEER SCHOOLS
Whether a decline in international student enrollment is the continuation of a trend among top full-time MBA programs remains to be seen, as we await the release of more Class of 2020 profiles. Nevertheless, falling below 30% in international students appears to be a deviation compared to such peer schools as Columbia Business School, Yale School of Management, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and New York University’s Stern School of Business, the latter of which is the only school to have released 2018 incoming class stats thus far.
This fall, Stern increased international students from 37% to 39%. In 2016, the incoming class had 31% international students. Women in the class, however, dropped from 38% last year to 35% this year — a stat that’s divergent in its own right compared to top other B-schools that are currently increasing the number of women in their full-time MBA programs.
While Class of 2020 intakes haven’t yet been released by Columbia and Duke, a glance at where they stood a year ago shows that 30% international students or higher seems to be a norm for this peer group. Columbia’s 2017 entering class of full-time MBAs consisted of 43% international citizens and 41% women. In 2016, 48% were international students, 38% were women. In the case of Duke, last year’s incoming class was 39% international students, down just 1 percentage point from 2016. Yale maintained 45% international students in its 2017 incoming class.
MINORITIES, MILITARY VETS, AND OTHER Y-O-Y CHANGES
Outside of women and international students, a few other year-over-year changes can be seen within Johnson’s full-time MBA Class of 2020. Total number of countries represented rose from 38 to 40, and underrepresented minorities went from 12% to 15%. On a downward trend: military vets, who decreased 4%, from 11% to 7%.
In most other areas, Cornell’s incoming class remained relatively unchanged: Average years of work experience (five) and average age (28) are identical to the last two years; average GMAT score fell by one point, from 700 to 699; and average undergraduate GPA rose to 3.4 from 3.36 the year before.
Byers says the Johnson School received 1,600 applications during the 2017-18 admissions season — 53 fewer than the year before.
“Our acceptance rate for this year was 33%, up from 30% the year prior, and reflective of our decision to emphasize class composition as a school priority, value, and enrollment objective,” she says. “The overall professional experience and academic profile of candidates who enrolled this year remained strong and our community is more diverse — with more women and students from underrepresented backgrounds (including LGBTQ) — now too, which is already shifting the experience to be richer and more inclusive than it was previously.”