They are senior consultants, project managers, and specialists. They are program managers, associates, and analysts. They are Class of 2019 MBAs from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University, and they are facing the loss of everything they worked for.
Twelve international MBAs from the Tepper School face the prospect of imminent job loss and dislocation because their student visas run out in July. Per federal rules, each was given one-year post-graduation to work in the U.S. before needing a hard-to-get H-1B visa. Should they be forced to leave the country amid a global pandemic and economic cratering that has all but eliminated recruitment opportunities and transfer options — and be confronted with repayment of huge loans without the benefit of big U.S. salaries — their futures are deeply uncertain.
Had these MBAs graduated this year instead of last, they would have earned a different degree, and that would have made all the difference. That’s because the Tepper School won Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics designation for its MBA in the fall of 2019, giving graduates from 2020 forward a degree that qualifies them for 24 additional months — and 36 months total — of federal Optional Practical Training, the post-graduation period in which non-citizens are allowed to work in the United States. The glimmer of hope for the dozen Class of 2019 Tepper MBAs is the possibility that the school, like many of its peers, will make its STEM designation retroactive to include 2019 graduates who otherwise have met all the course requirements.
STEM DESIGNATION RECEIVED IN OCTOBER BUT NOT EXTENDED TO THE CLASS OF 2019
But there is also concern that despite meeting with the students and saying it is “actively working” to solve the problem, CMU Tepper — like at least one other prominent school — could decide that a retroactive designation can’t be done.
“Tepper received the STEM designation last year in October but has not extended it to the Class of 2019,” says one MBA who contacted Poets&Quants to express dismay at the prospect of having to leave their job this summer. The MBA, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid negatively affecting their employment situation, says that each of the 12 graduates petitioning Tepper for a change has met the STEM requirements. “As you may be aware, the OPT period for MBA graduates is one year and we typically have one shot at the H-1B lottery. This year in 2020, a total of 12 Tepper alumni, including me, from the Class of 2019 were not selected in the lottery and now face imminent unemployment.
“Our situation is worsened by the COVID-19-induced lockdown and economic recession. This has eliminated alternative employment opportunities for us, including internal transfers and relocations. After exhausting all options with our employers, our last and only viable option remains the recent Tepper MBA STEM designation.”
UC-BERKELEY, STANFORD, NYU: ALL MADE STEM RETROACTIVE
In all, 22 alumni from the Tepper Class of 2019 applied for the H-1B visa in 2020; that’s about 10% of the total class. Of these applications, 12 were not selected in the lottery; the 10 graduates who were selected, however, as fortunate as they are still face the possibility of a visa rejection. Retroactive STEM designation, therefore, would help all 22 MBAs.
“International students are vital and valued members of Carnegie Mellon University’s community, and we are supportive of our alumni and their concerns,” says Carnegie Mellon University spokesperson Julianne Mattera, responding to a request for comment by Poets&Quants. “CMU’s leadership is actively working to see if the university can grant a retroactive change to the program designation for our May 2019 Tepper graduates. We’ve contacted the governmental agency that oversees this area for clarification in this circumstance. We are awaiting their guidance and are hopeful for a positive, timely response.”
Tepper School representatives have told several of the Class of 2019 MBAs that the school is trying to get guidance from the federal Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which falls under the authority of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. SEVP administers the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System and collects data related to nonimmigrant students in the name of national security. But SEVP guidance is not necessary for the in-house process of STEM retroactivity, the students say — an assertion they have done the research to back up, having spoken to connections from two prominent schools that recently made their MBA programs STEM and made the designation retroactive: UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business and Stanford University Graduate School of Business. When UC-Berkeley Haas applied for STEM, it directly submitted an application to provide retroactive STEM dated back to 2018; as Peter Johnson, assistant dean for the UC-Berkeley Haas full-time MBA program & admissions, told P&Q recently, the process “was just the university selecting a point in time and confirming that any changes in the curriculum that supported the new designation were already in place.”
AFTER A PETITION SIGNED BY 200, STANFORD MADE ITS STEM MBA RETROACTIVE
At Stanford GSB, the process was slightly different, with the school not including the Class of 2019 in their initial application of STEM to the full-time MBA when it was established in spring 2020. However, 2019 graduates submitted a petition with signatures from 200 classmates, prompting school administrators to review their policies. One week later — despite a university policy to not retroactively update Classification of Instructional Program (CIP) codes, the technical move that changes how programs are categorized — Stanford GSB made the change on behalf of their alumni.
“That Stanford was able to make this decision in a week gives us hope,” one Tepper MBA tells P&Q, also citing NYU Stern School of Business as another school where the full-time MBA STEM designation was made retroactive after urging by recent grads. “From my previous conversation with NYU Stern, I know that Stern Class of 2019 went through this exact same journey. I learned that Stern’s dean was very supportive of his alumni and was instrumental in turning the NYU policy.” Other schools’ economics departments have also retroactively adjusted their CIP codes, the MBA adds.
Emulating Stanford alumni, the Tepper MBAs have launched a petition; as of May 11, it had nearly 900 signatories.
“We are happy that Tepper’s administration is finally engaging with us and has taken the matter seriously,” another Tepper MBA tells P&Q, adding, however, “It’s terrifying to think CMU might say no to us.”