The STEM wave continues. The latest school to join the movement to craft or recognize MBA curricula as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math programs — thereby allowing international students to work in the United States for up to 36 months post-MBA — is a big one: UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, which announced the change last week (November 14) for all three of its MBA programs. The move is retroactive to December 2018.
The change means international students studying on F-1 visas will be eligible to apply for an extension of up to 24 months during the year they are currently allowed to work in the U.S. after earning their degree. However, as Haas makes clear, approval to extend Optional Practical Training (OPT) will still depend on the training plans that employers and individual MBA grads submit.
“I think it’s a great step for us,” Peter Johnson, assistant dean of the full-time MBA program and admissions, tells Poets&Quants. “It more accurately identifies what is happening in the program and the curriculum. An additional side benefit is that it makes our students eligible to apply for the OPT extension. I think will be a great thing for many of our students.”
WHAT IT MEANS THAT A BERKELEY HAAS MBA IS A STEM DEGREE
While the Haas School is one of the first to establish STEM designation in all of its MBA programs — full-time, evening and weekend, and executive — many U.S. programs have embraced STEM as a way to attract international candidates, particularly in light of the current widespread downturn in MBA applications. Just this month, another top school, Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, announced that its MBA would also be a STEM program; last year’s P&Q Program of the Year honor went to the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School, the first U.S. program to classify entirely as STEM.
But UC-Berkeley’s move is sure to accelerate the trend. The Haas School, after all, is a top-10 MBA program.
Thirty-five percent of UC-Berkeley’s latest full-time MBA class of 283 students are international, a slight uptick from 2018 when 34% of 291 students were. (It works out to be about the same number of actual students, just shy of 100.) According to school data, Haas has not seen the steep drop-off in international interest suffered by some of its peer programs; in the last three years, the school’s proportion of international students has dipped only 3.9%. Some schools facing a collapse of international interest now report not on non-U.S. students in their programs but rather students who hold international passports, a number that tends to disguise the drop in internationals. In 2018, Haas reported that its Class of 2020 was composed of 42% international passport holders from 39 countries; visit the school’s International Applicants webpage and you’ll see that Haas typically enrolls 40% international passport holders from around 40 countries. As far as international versus domestic MBA salaries and geographic choice of employment, Haas has not yet released its full-time MBA 2019 employment report and its 2018 report does not provide those details.
But again, the move to STEM is a big deal in part because UC-Berkeley is such a highly ranked school. Haas is ranked No. 6 by U.S. News and No. 8 by P&Q; the Haas Evening & Weekend MBA, with 275 students, is currently No. 2 in U.S. News ranking after having been ranked No. 1 for six straight years and as recently as 2018. Haas’ executive program, with an enrollment of 142, is No. 7 in U.S. News and No. 13 by Poets&Quants.
HOW A SCHOOL GETS STEM DESIGNATION
The rise of STEM across the B-school landscape reflects more than just a need to shore up applications from abroad. It also reflects the rising importance of business analytics and big data, a trend that has been amply chronicled by P&Q. In fact, Johnson says, the move checks both boxes at once. “We anticipate that the move to STEM will lead to expanded opportunities for our international graduates who pursue jobs incorporating business analytics, modeling, forecasting, and other skills developed through our program,” Johnson says.
But how, exactly, does a program go about getting STEM designation? Johnson walks us through the process.
STEM designation begins with a campus review of how programs are categorized by the National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the Department of Education, under a Classification of Instructional Program (CIP) code. The codes “are generally established by universities based on the content of a particular program, or in some cases, a major,” Johnson says. “And so there had been discussion about this previously, about whether the CIP code that was attached to our program was the accurate one given the way that the curriculum has changed over the past 10 years — and in particular, the addition of a lot more business and data analytics within different parts of the curriculum.”
Dean Ann Harrison requested that the university consider changing Haas’ code to one that “more accurately reflects what’s happening in the program now versus 40 years ago,” Johnson says. The process took about four months. The new code defines the Berkeley Haas MBA as “a general program that focuses on the application of statistical modeling, data warehousing, data mining, programming, forecasting and operations research techniques to the analysis of problems of business organization and performance.” After the review, the Haas MBA degree programs were changed from “Business Administration and Management, General,” to “Management Science,” which is considered a STEM program.
“I think a lot of us feel that it was a good step and appropriate to what we’re doing,” Johnson says. “And of course students will be happy, because it creates the opportunity for them to apply for the extension, assuming of course that they are taking post-MBA roles that are relevant to that classification.” The Berkeley International Office STEM OPT webpage outlines the application process for F-1 students, including information about the responsibilities of employers in the process.
ADDRESSING THE DECLINE IN INTERNATIONAL INTEREST
When he spoke to P&Q in September after the release of Haas’ new class profile, Johnson offered his thoughts on what was driving the 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 said. “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.”
The bottom line, Johnson said in September, is that UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business continues to attract a deep talent pool of applicants 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 said. “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.”
Will the OPT program survive a federal lawsuit seeking to declare its illegality? Read more on page 2.