NYU’s Stern School of Business has joined the STEM movement. Announced today (February 3) to coincide with the start of the spring term but effective January 2, the Stern School’s move to designate its full-time MBA a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math program allows its international graduates a chance to extend their stay by two years past the 12 months they are currently allowed under federal law.
The change will cover all Stern MBA students graduating in May 2020 or later, as well as, retroactively, May 2019 graduates who are currently on post-completion Optional Practical Training. OPT is the federal program that in 2016 was amended to allow graduates with STEM-certified degrees to work in the U.S. for as long as 36 months after graduation. Stern now offers two STEM-designated MBA degrees, after announcing the designation for its one-year Andre Koo Technology and Entrepreneurship MBA in May 2019.
With the latest move, Stern joins UNC Kenan-Flagler, Northwestern Kellogg, Michigan Ross, UC-Berkeley Haas, Dartmouth Tuck, MIT Sloan, and others in designating part or all of their full-time MBA programs STEM in the last three months. It’s a move schools are framing as a reflection of the need to integrate technology and analytics into the curriculum — but it’s also a response to the ongoing nosedive in foreign applications amid rising costs, heated political rhetoric, and U.S. government antipathy toward all forms of immigration.
“This has clearly become an important issue for international students as they are looking at MBA programs and potential higher-education opportunities,” says JP Eggers, NYU Stern’s vice dean for MBA programs and academic director of the Andre Koo Technology and Entrepreneurship MBA. “Three or four years ago, nobody was talking about this and now everyone is talking about it. We’ve certainly had a number of students who’ve asked about the designation; many have mentioned that they were specifically happy when the Tech MBA was designated as a STEM program. There’s no good way to run a case control analysis where we could tell what would have happened in terms of interest or applications or whatever if it hasn’t been designated. So it’s hard to tell, but to me that is a secondary part of this. It’s really around doing the most we can for our students.”
A WHOLE DIFFERENT PROCESS — BUT ‘NOT PART OF A SIGNIFICANT CURRICULAR OVERHAUL’
Whether as a reflection of its location in the U.S. capital of finance or because it is consistently ranked among the top 20 schools, NYU Stern has not experienced the dramatic drop-off in applications endured by some of its peers. In the last two cycles Stern lost 7% of its app volume, from 3,781 to 3,518; in the last three, it is down just over 10%. Compare that to UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, ranked one spot higher than NYU in P&Q‘s latest ranking, which lost 17.7% in one year; or to Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, ranked one spot lower than Stern, which is down nearly 30% since 2017.
“We were certainly down less than many other schools the last couple of years,” Eggers says of Stern’s applications, adding that early impressions of this app cycle are that a leveling-out may be occurring. “We tend to feel like we’re seeing consistency, and what we’ve been hearing from other schools has been some degree of consistency as well. It’s pretty early for us to really have a strong sense. We feel pretty good about where we are at this point in time. I think we feel like we’re in a strong position, and I guess that’s kind of the most I’d feel comfortable saying.”
Eggers says that it’s one thing to designate a new one-year MBA as STEM, as Stern did with the Andre Koo degree, particularly when that MBA is tech and entrepreneurship oriented to begin with. But, he adds, going STEM with an entire, well-established full-time MBA was a whole different process.
“This has been part of a kind of an evolutionary process for us,” Eggers tells Poets&Quants, “as we’ve been slowly updating the curriculum and the way we teach things over time and kind of recognizing that the way we taught finance 20 years ago is very different from how we teach it now — and therefore it kind of fits the needs on this side. As far as the actual process, without a doubt, a new program that is focused largely on technology, analytics, entrepreneurship is a very easy sell to make everyone feel comfortable that it is clearly a STEM program — whereas an existing program like the MBA that hadn’t been STEM-designated beforehand definitely requires an understanding of how the MBA as a degree has evolved over the course of the last 20 years, to be much more data-driven, analytics-driven. And so there was certainly more work and effort and time that we would have to put in around the two-year program than we did have to around the focused MBA, without a doubt.
“There are some small tweaks that we’ve been making and we’ll make in the future, but this is not part of a significant curricular overhaul. This is a reflection of what we’ve been doing for a while.”
SCHOOLS MUST BE ‘COMFORTABLE WITH THE DECISIONS THAT THEY ARE MAKING’
What is the justification for business schools in designating their MBAs as STEM degrees? School officials point to a well-publicized and ongoing need for more workers in STEM fields that are considered essential to U.S. economic competitiveness — a need that prompted the government in 2016 to grant non-citizen graduates of programs with STEM designation a dispensation to work in the U.S. longer without needing a visa. By some estimates, the shortage of qualified STEM workers will grow to more than a million jobs by 2024 — and by other estimates to 3.5 million by 2025. Without STEM attached to their degrees, 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 fiery political debate on immigration.
The STEM Designated Degree Program makes it possible for international graduates to remain stateside for an additional 24 months after graduation and receive training through work experience. To be eligible, they must have a STEM degree from an accredited U.S. school and must secure employment with an employer that includes a minimum of 20 hours of work per week and formal training within the STEM field.
For programs to earn the STEM designation, at least 50% of coursework must be in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or math. But is there a possibility of abuse of the system?
“Basically the way that this works is that universities make designations and then are subject to any sort of investigation or whatever by the Department of Homeland Security at some point,” Eggers says. “It’s not a process of applying to the government in order to get this done — it is actually the university that creates a process for deciding how to classify individual degrees or majors within degrees depending on how they want to function, and the university makes a decision. Then again, at any point in time Homeland Security could choose to audit, investigate, whatever, and that’s kind of where the school has to feel comfortable with it, with the decisions that they are making.
“This is a core part of what, I think, where the nature of work is going. This has become a ubiquitous skillset that everyone’s kind of after. Mostly we are focused on how this helps our MBAs. This is all about trying to provide as much opportunity for all of our students as we possibly can. Obviously in this case, at least around the OPT side of this, this is about the international MBA students. Many students will end up on other types of visas at some point in time. They may choose to leave the country, they may not end up in a role that uses STEM. This may not really matter for a large number of our international students — but those for whom this is a big deal, the idea of being able to stay in this country for three years as opposed to one, it’s an enormous deal for them. And so we focused on this entirely from the prospect of being able to provide every possible opportunity we can for all of our MBA students, including our international students. And that’s what drove the whole decision for us.”