Focus On Diversity Pays Off In Latest Berkeley Haas Class

Haas Class of 2021 MBA students at a recent team-building exercise. Jim Block photo

Even as Berkeley Haas celebrated its improved diversity numbers, it held the line on others. The average undergraduate GPA of the 2019 intake is 3.67, up very slightly from last year, while the average GMAT score slid just one point, to 725, while remaining significantly up over the last four years. But the school went backward on other key metrics, with most of the reversals traceable to a drop in applications, now a two-year phenomenon. Haas received 3,450 apps to its full-time MBA in this cycle, down 9.7% from 3,821 last year — and down 16.5% since the school received a record 4,132 apps in 2017. In the last four years, Haas has lost nearly 600 apps, or 14.4%.

The decline in app volume has led directly to the school’s yield falling an estimated 6.6 percentage points since 2016, from 52.9% to 46.3%, a drop of 12.5%. (Haas doesn’t release the number of admits in each intake, making exact calculations impossible.) The app decline has also led to a rise in the school’s acceptance rate: In 2016, Haas’ selectivity rate was 11.8%; this year it has climbed to 17.7%, a jump of 50%, including a nearly 15% increase between 2018 and 2019.


Peter Johnson. File photo

Another trouble spot: Haas’ enrollment of women. Last year the school was among the leaders in enrolled women MBA candidates, at 43% — a school record that made Haas one of 13 leading U.S. schools with greater than 40% women in the class of 2018. Incoming Dean Ann Harrison, in a January chat on the school’s campus, praised the achievement but said more work needs to be done, noting that in a presentation from students she had been told “a fact that just blew me away” — that “10 years out, for every dollar that a male MBA who graduated from our program is earning, women are earning only 57 cents. That is also something that we need to address.”

This fall, however, Haas lost its role as a leader in female enrollment, slipping below the 40% threshold of women enrolled in the MBA. That has led to questions about what went wrong and how best to address it.

“That is the one factor of this incoming class that’s a disappointment, and we’re looking very closely at all of our data to get a better sense of what’s happened,” Johnson says. “We were, as you know, one of the first schools to go above 40% in the percentage of women in our class. And we bopped around that number for the past few years, and this year in terms of women they were 40% of our applicant pool, and 43% of the offers of admission that we made.

“Clearly some things happened after the offers of admission, including more women than expected who declined during the summer. We’re digging into all that data very carefully to see what caused the change during the summer to the number.

“Of course, we are very interested in making sure that women find our program to be a positive personal and professional step, and we want to be part of providing more talented women to organizations in the coming years, and this is something that we’re digging into, and trying to figure out what happened exactly.”


Johnson also has some thoughts on the widespread — though by no means universal — decline in apps at leading business schools in the U.S.

“Application flows, as you will have witnessed, are very cyclical, and I think there are a number of factors impacting applications nationally,” he says. “One of those factors of course is that the job market at the moment is strong, and that tends to depress application numbers for full-time MBA programs — but there are other factors as well, including concern about international legal changes, and the perception of changes in the student visa process.

“If you look at the information coming from GMAC (the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the GMAT) about test-takers, one of the things that’s really clear is that there’s been a shift among international candidates of more test takers sending their test scores to schools in the UK and to Canada, but not to the U.S. I think looking at GMAC test-taker data is a pretty good proxy for getting an understanding of what’s happening in the industry. I think all business schools are looking at this combination of factors, and thinking about what the best way forward will be, because even though application flows go up and down over the years, I think there are some structural issues now that we all have to be focused on.”

But the bottom line, Johnson says, is that UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business is one of the fortunate ones, with a deep talent pool to choose from and the resources to withstand a downturn, as long as it’s not too pronounced or prolonged.

“We are subject to all the same market factors that other business schools are, and certainly we are fortunate to have a large and deep enough application pool that the impact is less pronounced,” he says. “I’m thrilled with our incoming class, and I think as individuals they are very talented group, and at a time when I think many business schools are struggling with decreased application flows, I couldn’t be happier to have enrolled such an outstanding class.”

Frank Cooper, global CMO of BlackRock, makes his way to the stage, as surprised MBA students react to BlackRock’s visit during Week Zero in August. Photo: Benny Johnson