Stacy Blackman, founder of Stacy Blackman Consulting, recently wrote a blog post comparing the coronavirus outbreak to the days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, noting that her consultancy was born in the days after the attacks when “life as we knew it came to an end.” But eventually, she added, after all the uncertainty and fear things began to return to normal.
“Beyond the darkness, there is light,” Blackman wrote. “The coronavirus is scary, but know that better things await us as we shake up routines and take time to reflect on our lives, relationships, and goals.”
Blackman tells Poets&Quants that in a time of political uncertainty and economic volatility, an MBA’s value only rises. After all, she says, it’s an investment in academic and personal growth, and while there will be major undulations for those just graduated or those about to graduate, applicants for the 2020-2021 deadlines will be graduates in 2023 and will benefit from a refreshed economic landscape. “Now, that feels like a breath of fresh air,” she says.
‘A SHIFT, AND A CHALLENGING ONE’
Back in the short term, there will be pain, and everyone knows it — and that might give potential applicants pause who are already well into their careers and seeing some success, Blackman says.
“If you are focused on your career and you are prosperous and moving in the direction you want, you might be hesitant to take time out for an MBA,” Blackman says. “It’s a lot of time and money. Unfortunately, coronavirus is going to shake a lot of that up. It already is. The economy is not doing so well and I don’t see that changing for a while. People will lose jobs, valuations will drop, money will be lost — I am not saying anything that we don’t already know.”
B-schools’ pain will be enormous, too, at least in the short term, she says. But the changes schools make will be beneficial to applicants. The bottom line is that applicants will need to be flexible, Blackman says, like she and her soon-to-be college-age son.
“The impact on MBA programs is that some are pushing out application deadlines, the standardized testing is postponed, interviews are going remote, campus visits are canceled,” she says. “The whole application process needs to be online. It’s a shift, and a challenging one. I believe this will last through the summer. But since most of the process was already virtual, it’s not exactly mind-bending. We can manage through the delays and hiccups, just as my son is dealing with the cancellation of his SAT and college tour. College is not going away, nor any less relevant just because he cannot visit prospective campuses in person right now.”
‘BIG CHANGES ARE HAPPENING NOW’
For B-schools right now and into the fall’s intakes, Blackman expects programs to experience yield drop-offs because of so much uncertainty and so many travel restrictions. The 2020-2021 cycle “is going to be tricky,” she says, “unless we have an enormous improvement in the virus itself by September. If we can contain that significantly, people can travel and move about freely, and then ‘game on’ for all MBA programs. Regardless, damage to the economy is done; it has taken a major hit and will take time to correct.
“This is why, longer term, I feel there is going to be a much stronger demand for the MBA at all levels. This will trickle down to lower-ranked programs as well. It will be competitive, which may give the lower-ranked schools a chance to really show what they have to offer. There is more to the MBA landscape than the ‘top 10’ — whatever that really means — and I believe that more applicants will explore schools outside of the usual set.”
The fear and uncertainty are real, Blackman says. But she remains hopeful for the future of graduate business education.
“I am not going to lie: Over the past few weeks I have had moments of intense anxiety, worrying about the people I love and the state of the world,” she says. “It’s very, very tough and unifies us in that it is tough for everyone, in every setting, doing everything under the sun. The MBA will be impacted in the short and long term, but I believe in the longer term it will be much stronger than it is today.
“For the right person it is always a great time to get an MBA. And my thought is that in the coming years there will be greater numbers that will find that they are the right people in the right moment for an MBA. The reasons for an MBA have not changed: incredible network, solid business education, platform for career pivot, international options, opportunity to expand and explore, and of course so much more. Not only can you step away from a less certain career — or perhaps a layoff — and invest in yourself, but you can also take the time to rethink and re-calibrate while the world literally re-calibrates. This is a big one. Big changes are happening now, and they are not going away tomorrow. The MBA is an incredible way to turn the focus into something really positive.”