The University of Michigan Ross School of Business was by no means the hardest-hit school in last year’s precipitous decline in international applications to U.S. B-schools. But like its peer school UC-Berkeley, Michigan sees the writing on the wall — and is acting now to prevent a deeper crisis later.
Michigan Ross this month became the latest school to embrace a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math designation for a track within its MBA program, a move that gives potential foreign applicants a pathway to a longer stay in the U.S. after graduation. After losing 6.2% of its application volume between 2018 and 2019 — and 14.2% in the three years before the current application cycle — Michigan Ross is moving to shore up its all-important international pipeline.
But “going STEM” is about more than keeping the lights on in Ann Arbor, Dean Scott DeRue says. It also has the benefit of giving students what they need for success.
“Business analytics has become essential in helping organizations make strategic business decisions, and we are excited to announce this new pathway for our full-time MBA students who are interested in pursuing STEM-related careers in business,” DeRue says in a news announcement from the school. “Our new STEM track will leverage the world-renowned general management curriculum at Ross to prepare students from a variety of backgrounds to be leaders in the business world of today and tomorrow.”
ROSS SCHOOL STEM MBAs MUST COMPLETE 18 CREDITS OF SPECIFIC ELECTIVES
Because STEM fields are considered essential to U.S. economic competitiveness and growth, the government grants non-citizen graduates of programs with STEM designation a dispensation to work in the United States longer without needing a visa. International graduates of U.S. business schools currently may hold U.S. jobs for only 12 months before needing an H1-B visa — a visa that has become harder to get amid a heated and protracted political debate on immigration. To address a shortage of qualified workers in STEM fields that by some estimates will grow to more than a million jobs by 2024, the federal government in 2016 created the STEM Designated Degree Program, which makes it possible for international graduates to remain stateside for an additional 24 months after graduation and receive training through work experience.
So, partly in response to demand, partly to entice greater application volume from abroad, in recent years several leading U.S. business schools have unveiled STEM certificates, concentrations, or more in their MBA programs. UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business was the most recent elite school to embrace STEM, announcing in November that all three of its MBAs are fully STEM-designated.
Michigan’s new STEM track, which begins in the fall, “represents a significant move within the full-time MBA curriculum at the Ross School of Business,” according to the school’s announcement, “allowing students interested in pursuing quantitative management and business analytics roles across many industries to participate in a formal program.” Full details on the STEM track will be made available in February, according to a newly published school blog.
Along with completing the required full-time MBA core courses, the Ross School’s STEM track will require 18 credit hours to be completed from a specific set of electives across many business disciplines, including accounting, finance, management and organizations, marketing, and technology and operations. Among the electives slated for the new track are Big Data Management: Tools and Techniques; Marketing Engineering and Analytics; and FinTech: Blockchain, Cryptocurrencies, and Other Technology Innovations.
STEM, says Soojin Kwon, managing director of full-time MBA admissions at Michigan Ross, is a big move in a new, more technical era of graduate business education. “We are constantly looking for new ways to provide our students with the educational experiences and opportunities that will enable them to thrive in their future careers,” she says, adding that current first-year Ross MBA students will be able to express their interest in pursuing the STEM track later this semester, and all incoming full-time MBA students will be able to participate.
FIGHTING LARGER FORCES
Michigan Ross is currently ranked 12th in the U.S. by Poets&Quants, making it one of the top schools to embrace STEM. But that is not the Ross School’s only innovation in a time of turmoil for full-time MBA programs in the U.S.: Ross also recently began offering a +Impact Studio course in which full-time MBA and graduate students from across the University of Michigan translate insights from faculty research “into solutions for pressing societal challenges”; additionally, the school recently launched the Michigan Ross FinTech Initiative, a comprehensive academic program aimed at preparing students for successful careers in the rapidly growing fintech sector. Three years ago, Ross created a data and business analytics concentration, which has seen strong student interest. In addition, the school continues to expand its Ross Experiences in Action-Based Learning (REAL) portfolio, a collection of experiences that allow students to start, advise, lead, and invest in real businesses while at Michigan Ross.
But as innovative as Michigan has been, larger forces may be conspiring against them — and against other schools with major MBA programs, as Peter Johnson, assistant dean of the full-time MBA program and admissions at UC-Berkeley Haas, told P&Q in September.
“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.,” Johnson said. “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.”