No top-25 business school has been hit harder by the ongoing application slump at MBA programs in the United States than Indiana University’s Kelley School. From 2016-2017 to 2018-2019, Indiana Kelley lost more than 40% of its total application volume; only one other top-25 school, UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, lost anywhere near that amount in that span. In the last two full cycles alone, the Kelley School shed 31.5% of its apps. As it has at Indiana’s peer schools (as well as schools higher in the rankings), the biggest shortfall came among international students: In the three-year span between 2016 and 2018 the Kelley MBA lost more than 10% of its foreign learners.
So how are things going in the 2019-2020 cycle?
“Apps are down but not as bad as they were the last two years,” Ash Soni, executive associate dean for academic programs, tells Poets&Quants. “Last year was really bad, this year not so bad, and we still have two more rounds to go.” Kelley’s third-round application deadline was Sunday; its final round concludes April 15.
Has the Kelley School pulled out of the tailspin? Perhaps. For one thing, in the 2019 intake Kelley reported 36% internationals, a rebound to 2016 levels. But the school isn’t resting there. Among the measures it’s taking to address the new reality of general declining interest in full-time MBA programs, Kelley announced today (March 2) that it will offer STEM-designated MBA degrees in five disciplines: accounting, business analytics, finance, marketing, and supply chain and operations. The change will cover all Kelley MBA students graduating with those majors in May 2020 or later, qualifying them for the federal Optional Practical Training program, which allows STEM degree holders to work in the U.S. for up to three years after graduating without needing a visa.
The Kelley School’s move has been in the works for about eight months, Soni says. “These things take time,” he says of the internal process by which the university approved designating aspects of the Kelley MBA as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math programs. “STEM helps with international students finding jobs in the U.S., helps bring them to Kelley, helps Kelley attract corporate partners who haven’t worked with us before. It’s a no-brainer.”
‘KELLEY ALWAYS ADJUSTS TO MEET THE NEEDS OF STUDENTS’
It’s a no-brainer, says Kelley Dean Idalene Kesner, because the digital economy permeates every aspect of society and across many industries today.
“Our corporate partners and recruiters want graduates who possess an understanding of how technology drives innovation, creates new job opportunities and spurs economic growth,” says Kesner, who is also the Kelley School’s Frank P. Popoff chair of strategic management.
“This designation for our program enables us to more accurately reflect the quantitative nature of our curriculum today and demonstrates how Kelley always adjusts to meet the needs of students, which it frequently has done over its 100-year history.”
In a news release accompanying the announcement of the new STEM majors, Soni adds, “A hallmark of our full-time MBA program over eight decades has been our graduates and the contributions they’ve made toward the success and competitiveness of companies across the U.S. and beyond. The curriculum at Kelley has evolved to ensure that our students are ready for digitization, artificial intelligence, robotics and data analytics required in 21st-century jobs.
“Our employers appreciate that the STEM designation makes it easier for them to recruit the students who have completed this coursework and are the most prepared to perform in these roles.”
MANY STEM PATHWAYS OPEN UP IN U.S. B-SCHOOLS
Kelley joins a growing number of schools across the country that offer STEM-designated graduate degrees; read our reporting on the rationale behind B-schools’ embrace of STEM and the realities behind the designation. Schools’ chief motivation is that STEM, in addition to benefiting international students who may want to work longer in positions related to their studies at U.S. firms after graduation, helps all students — foreign and domestic — remain competitive in a marketplace where analytical and other quant skills are increasingly sought.
See below for an updated table on STEM pathways at the major U.S. business schools.