An Open Letter To B-School Deans On MBA App Declines

Robert Ruiz, Managing Director of BusinessCAS, speaks at the 2019 Liaison User Conference.

Robert Ruiz, Managing Director of BusinessCAS, speaks at the 2019 Liaison User Conference. Credit: Brian Adams.

Robert Ruiz, Managing Director of BusinessCAS at Liaison International, has penned the following letter to 50 U.S. business school deans in response to their own recent letter to American leaders on the current crisis in international student enrollment.

Dear colleagues,

In summoning the courage to take your concerns on current challenges in higher education directly to America’s leaders, you’ve poignantly captured your responsibility as business school deans to — in your words — think ahead “10, 20, and 30 years into the future” regarding the needs of the U.S. economy.

While working alongside you for 30 years in admission and enrollment management, I’ve never witnessed a moment quite as fateful as the present crossroads we face — both for you as institutional leaders, and for us as the education technology providers who offer solutions to your most pressing challenges. Traditional MBA programs are increasingly shuttering their doors amid the rise of specialized masters and online degrees, and the most elite programs are not immune to declining applicant pools. International applications to U.S. business schools dropped 13.7% between 2018 and 2019, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council.

Against the backdrop of this chaotic environment, I’m heartened to witness your nuanced understanding of the inextricable education-workplace connection. Higher education can’t ignore this nation’s looming shortage of highly skilled talent, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that an aging population means labor force participation will decline to 61% in 2026 from 62.8% in 2016.

You could’ve easily stayed silent in the public eye, discussing this predicament exclusively within the walls of your own institutions. That would’ve been the natural course of action, the path of least resistance. Instead, you exposed the uncomfortable truths we’re all confronting. If we don’t effect disruptive change, will MBA programs exist in 20 years? If we don’t train America’s next generation of business leaders, who will train those leaders and where will they come from? By speaking these truths, you’ve ignited a necessary conversation that higher education has avoided for far too long. Your fearlessness promises to inspire and activate hundreds of peers who share our concerns but didn’t speak out over a variety of apprehensions. 

Your plea didn’t fall on deaf ears. Today, I offer just a few of the principles that should guide our collective actions moving forward:

Leverage the power of networking. Beyond issuing calls to action, let’s actively share best practices through professional networks and associations which amplify the impact of our individual and collective ingenuity. That’s precisely the goal of Liaison International’s BusinessCAS, whose advisory board unites subject matter experts from campuses across the U.S. in order to focus on innovation and collaboration; we strive to be the glue that holds the greater graduate management education community together.

Articulate the value of an MBA. With the massive loan debt accumulated by recent MBA  graduates, it’s no surprise that some potential applicants are wondering whether they should pursue an MBA, not where they should pursue it. But let’s not succumb to these harsh financial realities. Let’s reshape the narrative on the value an MBA delivers — beyond the starting salary. An MBA equips students with the multifaceted skill sets to make meaningful contributions to their lives and communities. An MBA empowers business leaders to reinvigorate their local and regional economies through entrepreneurship. And an MBA connects graduates with lifelong, career-defining professional networks and support systems. 

Rethink the status quo. Don’t be afraid to challenge the relevance of seemingly untouchable entities like school rankings, which are heavily driven by salary. By definition, the rankings penalize schools that seek to train desperately needed leaders in the non-profit and public sectors. As a result, they misrepresent the true value of an MBA for students as well as society.

Use every tool at your disposable. It’s time to stop putting off that sweeping, sobering assessment of your institution’s admissions processes and products. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, then surely you shouldn’t ignore the wealth of new-age technological solutions that can address your age-old problems. 

In these ways, your recent letter can serve not only as a crucial call to action but as an actionable launching pad for executing the steps that will transform our field for the better. As an educational technology leader, I stand ready to work with you in designing and implementing the solutions to declining international enrollment and the other defining challenges of this era in higher education. We’re in this together.

Robert Ruiz

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