They tried making the MBA free. Now Arizona State’s Carey School of Business has another plan: Make it fast.
Dean Amy Hillman today (January 13) announced the launch of a new “fast-track” MBA at the Carey School that will take as little as 12 months to complete. Designed for working professionals who want to keep their jobs while studying, the new program will be open to those with a business-related master’s degree from an AACSB-accredited school and at least two years of work experience.
The program’s first intake will be in the fall. Deadline for international applications is February 4; domestic applicants need to apply by April 4.
“Business schools that are in small college towns are feeling the pinch from the decline in applications for full-time MBAs, and we certainly are too, but when you’re in a big city like Phoenix, what we’ve always benefited from was a very strong working professional MBA platform,” Hillman tells Poets&Quants, “whether that be our professional flex, our hundred-percent online, or our executive MBA. We’re finding working professionals aren’t questioning the value of an MBA. They just want to pursue and get the skills of an MBA while they keep their jobs.”
DEAN HILLMAN: PROGRAM ‘IS REALLY GOING TO HELP YOUNG PROFESSIONALS ADVANCE’
Fast-track MBA classes will be held two evenings a week on ASU’s Tempe campus. Online courses also will be available, allowing learners to finish in as little as 12 months; or, with a part-time schedule, in as little as 18 months. Hillman says the school would like to see an increase in the number of work years required in coming years, adding that the other main requirement — a previous master’s degree in a business field — is a key part of the appeal.
“For several years since we saw the incredible increase in demand for specialized master’s degrees, we suspected that with the number of people getting those specialized degrees that they would eventually reach a point where they needed the generalist skills of an MBA to advance into leadership roles,” Hillman says. “We started thinking about this many years ago, but we really think right now is the right time for it, because — depending on who you talk to in the economy — we’re either facing a recession or the economy’s doing great.
“I was out visiting with (founder and editor-in-chief) John (Byrne) and Poets&Quants a few months ago and it was about the time that one of the other schools who had had a Master in Management was announcing that they would let those students go into an MBA program. And I mentioned to John at the time, ‘Hey, we’ve got an announcement coming, but it’s kind of the opposite articulation where we’re going to take the specialized master’s and kind of think of those as the specialization within an MBA, and allow for a one-year fast-track MBA for anyone that has achieved a specialized master’s in business.’
“And so we think this is really going to help with the students who have used their specialized master’s to get into functional levels of expertise deeper and deeper, and are now getting to the point in their careers where the range of what we think of as an MBA, the traditional core, is really going to help them advance. And we think it’s also going to be a great way to expand networks, because the specialized business master’s holders have traditionally been deep in those functional areas, and now they’ll be sitting in classes with people from lots of different industries and lots of different functions and so it’ll also help spread their network.”
The dean further described the curricular appeal of the new program.
“A few years ago we relaunched our part-time MBA program and we made what we call the professional flex. We’re more flexible in terms of courses and also offering online courses,” Hillman says. “We spent a lot of time doing curriculum development for that, and for this program what we’re going to do is, we’re going to accept the MS in a specialized business master’s, and take those credits toward what we normally would think about as a specialization in an MBA, and just introduce them into a one-year MBA core, after which time they’ll graduate with an MBA.”
CUTTING COSTS TO ZERO DOESN’T WORK
In 2016, ASU Carey famously cut the cost of its MBA to zero. The “Forward Focus” MBA program, funded by millions from the school’s original 2003 endowment, would waive tuition and fees for all admits — which at the time worked out to roughly $54,000 for Arizona residents, $87,000 for non-residents, and $90,000 for international students. It was a move that may have cost the school well over $20 million annually, but it was seen as a winner — the antidote to steeply rising prices at elite MBA programs.
“If someone has a great start-up idea, and they know they would be more successful in their venture if they had the skills and networking that an MBA would give them, they might be concerned about spending the money because it takes away from the capital needed for the start-up venture,” Hillman said when the free MBA was announced in fall 2015. “We’re very hopeful that we’ll get more high-quality applicants as a result of this program, and the kinds of people who might think they can’t pursue a top MBA program.”
Applications for the fall 2016 intake at ASU skyrocketed to 1,159, more than double the usual number. Other metrics improved, too (see table below). But the next year apps fell back considerably, and only regained a fraction of their losses in 2018. And while ASU managed to drive down its acceptance rate to top-25 levels, its yield fell off a cliff in 2018, dropping in one cycle from 72% t0 59%. Why?
“We thought by announcing that everyone would be getting the same deal on a world-class education, we’d get a very different class,” Hillman told the Wall Street Journal in September 2019. “We didn’t know how much scholarships were being used by our peer schools” to appeal to applicants.
A NEW DIRECTION?
After scrapping the free program (while continuing to offer generous aid packages), ASU Carey saw its applications plummet by 42.5% last cycle. Class size dwindled from 109 two years ago to 72 last fall. The rankings responded. The school is currently ranked 34th by Poets&Quants, down from 31st last year, and 33rd by U.S. News & World Report, down from 29th. In fact it has dropped (by a little or by a lot) in every major ranking except Forbes‘, where it climbed from 38th from 40th last year.
The move to create a free MBA was made in part with rankings in mind. Does the move to a fast track signal that ASU Carey is moving for good past the traditional two-year model?
“The bottom line here is that this is about creating more opportunities for students,” Hillman says. “When we think about the number of students who have enrolled in specialized master’s — and we could go back several decades like our Master’s in Accounting and Master’s in Taxation and Information Management — but then add to it the degrees that every business school seems to be opening every day, a Master’s in Business Analytics or Finance or in Marketing. We know that there are a lot of people who have benefited from those functional degrees that now are really poised to benefit from the exposure of the generalist skills that will help them become a leader.”
Total cost for the new program will be around $34,000 for students who go straight through without a break. If they take a traditional summer off, Hillman says, “it may be a little bit higher, but it’ll be somewhere in that $34- to $40,000 range.” Compare that to full-time MBA’s price tag of $59,600 per year.
“We think there’s going to be good demand,” Hillman says. “We’re planning on one cohort, and one cohort to us — because we have a traditionally small intimate program where we really want to get to know our students — would be limited to 50. But we’re going to see what demand brings.”