COVID-19: Four Big Predictions For MBAs & B-Schools

We’ve entered unprecedented territory. Unlike a natural disaster, like a hurricane or a tornado, or even a terrorist attack, the coronavirus threatens to shut down not merely a region or country but the world.

The impact on higher education is obvious. Business schools have canceled face-to-face classes and shifted to online instruction. Global immersions and on-campus events have been shut down. Admit weekends are no more. MBA admission events all across the world are in a hiatus.

INSEAD Dean Ilian Mihov now lays in a hospital bed in Singapore, stricken with COVID-19. Michigan Ross is giving round 3 applicants a new deadline of May 29th, two months later than the original March 30th deadline. NYU Stern has moved back the start date of its one-year MBA option to July from May. Harvard Business School has canceled its Admit Weekend for round two admits and so has every other school. Wharton has gone farther, deciding not to hold an in-person graduation. And three schools—IE Business School, IESE Business School, and Northwestern Kellogg—have confirmed cases of COVID-19.

But all that is just the start, the immediate short-term reactions to a spreading virus causing disease and death. The longer-term consequences are far direr. Here are our four big predictions:

1) The strongest MBA job market in history will come to an end.

Ever since the Great Recession came to an end, the job market for MBA graduates has never been better. Employment rates for the best schools are commonly above 95% and starting pay has reached record levels.

The truth is that in 2002, a ton of people had their offers delayed. Internship offers during that summer were a disaster. In 2009, many careers just never started, even for some MBA graduates from Harvard Business School. 

There’s no reason to think that the coronavirus-led recession will be much different. Already, some companies are clawing back their internship offers to MBA students, even at top schools such as Stanford GSB. As more companies realize that the economy is plunging into recession, they will do what they have to do: preserve cash, reduce expenses and cut back on hires.

2) MBA admissions this cycle will be in turmoil.

In what is expected to be the sixth consecutive year of declining applications to full-time MBA programs, this cycle’s admissions season will be thrown into turmoil. Already, U.S. embassies are closing down and it is becoming increasingly difficult for admitted internationals to gain student visas to study in the U.S.

This year, business schools may have to draw on their waitlists more aggressively, grant more deferrals to international students who decide not to enroll in the fall, and prep for what could be a vastly expanded applicant pool next year as many international candidates reapply or a recession fuels a new MBA applicant boom (see B-Schools Fear Dramatic Fall In International Applicants Due To Virus).

Anxiety is rising among candidates who have gained an admit to tp business schools. “If recruiting, networking, classes, experiential learning projects, etc are suspended/affected, then it may not be worth the $200k we’re currently looking at – even more so for those of us flying in from abroad,” writes a Round 2 admit on what has become a popular Reddit topic. 

Adds another: “A lot of people are worried how it’ll impact their experience. If you’re paying full price for essentially an online MBA and neutered networking and job prospecting experience, then most will not be too pleased.”

“I don’t want to spend $200K for a compromised experience,” says yet another poster. “I was also accepted to Stern’s 1-year Tech MBA, which they delayed the start date from May to July. Which is great, gives me more time to decide between a 2-year or 1-year program.”

And some are looking beyond the issue of whether their first semester in the fall of this year will be online. They understand that a continued crisis would have a dramatic impact on their employment chances. “If we can’t meet for classes then obviously companies aren’t coming to campus for dinners, meet and greets, etc.,” says another admit.

“So does that mean we summer recruiting would be pushed back or not happen at all? How will IB/Consulting/CPG formulate their final interview lists without contact points with students? To me this is the most important impact. After all, the majority of us are attending an MBA program to get job upgrades/switches, minus the few sponsored students.”

3) A wakeup call for higher education

The overnight shift to online learning at many business schools that have been laggards in adopting courses for online delivery will become a wakeup call. If you are in an MBA program that has little to no experience in delivering sophisticated online education—not a MOOC on Coursera or EdX—don’t expect much more than Zoom sessions which may be a short-term fix but is not the stuff of a rigorous graduate program.

How prepared are business schools to effectively move coursework online? Not very, according to John Katzman, founder and CEO of Noodle Partners, an online education platform. “This is a real wakeup call,” says Katzman, who also founded 2U, a publicly-traded online education provider. “I am on the phone with a whole lot of universities who really feel they need to up their game. Most schools are using technology poorly. They have no real pedagogy that is synchronous to flank asynchronous instruction. It is a teachable moment, a moment that most people skate through somehow and ultimately decide to up their game.”

4) Looking for the silver lining

The silver lining in all this is that the recession will reverse the years-long slide in applications to full-time MBA programs and force schools and their often reluctant faculties to use technology in smarter and more sophisticated ways to enhance the educational experience. 

Hopefully, the peak of the virus may pass by the fall if public health measures in the United States and Europe are ultimately successful in containing its spread. But there are no guarantees. The 1918 flu began spreading in January of that year but became most virulent in August.

A recession that cuts off advancement opportunities for young professionals and leads to layoffs and cutbacks, will likely last longer than the crisis. If the past is a prelude to the future, many of those twenty-something pros will be leaving their companies and going back to graduate school.


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