MANY EXAMPLES OF B-SCHOOLS MAKING STEM RETROACTIVE
In all, 24 major MBA programs have established STEM designation in the last year. There are 14 top-50 MBA programs with STEM pathways that were made retroactive: eight schools that converted their entire MBA program to STEM and applied the designation to past classes (Chicago Booth, Stanford GSB, MIT Sloan, UC-Berkeley Haas, Columbia, NYU Stern, Arizona State Carey, and UC-Davis Graduate School of Management), and six others that created or converted Management Science tracks or majors and retroactively enabled students who took classes that counted toward these tracks/majors (Harvard Business School, Wharton, Dartmouth Tuck, Duke Fuqua, Rochester Simon, and WashU Olin).
In P&Q‘s recent story on Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management’s decision to not make retroactive its STEM Management Science major — a decision that impacts more than 50 graduates of the Class of 2019 and their families — we detailed the process as laid out by another B-school dean, Andrew Ainslie of the University of Rochester Simon Business School. Rochester Simon was among the first schools to make its entire MBA a STEM program, in 2018; at the time, the school made the move retroactive by a year to include all new MBA graduates. That makes the Simon School a model not just for STEM but for retroactive STEM, as well.
Ainslie noted that Department of Homeland Security requirements for STEM designation stipulate that programs must dedicate a high percentage of their credit hours to courses in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics; he says the Simon School was guided by a mandate that as long as past students took enough courses to pass the threshold, they could include the STEM MBA on their résumés. In 2018, when Simon made its STEM splash, Ainslie estimated that 70% of past graduates would qualify for the amendment.
“What we did is, for every one of our students from the prior year, we went through their transcripts,” Ainslie told P&Q. “So the thing that makes this difficult is, what electives did they do and are the electives STEM eligible or not? In other words, did they do enough electives that were STEM? If they did a whole bunch of soft OB classes, they were out of luck. If they did some tough finance and operations classes, or programming classes, then actually we could STEM designate them.”
A top official at Columbia, Jonah Rockoff, senior vice dean for curriculum and programs, echoed Ainslie: “Judging from our experience and that of other schools we consulted, retroactivity depends on whether the change in program designation is based on the curriculum taken by past graduates or current students. Our MBA curriculum underwent a gradual but fundamental shift towards the scientific study of management and widespread use of quantitative methods, and this was reflected in data we analyzed from recent graduating cohorts. So it was natural to update the designation of our most recent alumni in addition to those who are graduating this year and in the future.”
Tepper, of course, has long been known as a tech-heavy B-school. Its employment report for the Class of 2019 shows that 30.5% of all MBAs went into tech, a number that has fluctuated but remained strong enough to keep the school in the top three — with Stanford and the University of Washington Foster School of Business — of tech feeders.
‘I FACE UNCERTAINTY & CONFUSION ABOUT THE FUTURE’
In its last intake in the fall of 2019, more than a third of CMU Tepper’s full-time MBA (34.2%) was foreign, slightly up over the previous two cohorts. The Class of 2019 was exactly one-third — 33% — international. That means the school can ill afford to see international students opt to go elsewhere. Already the school’s MBA program has lost 28.7% of its application volume between 2017 and 2019, third-worst in the top 25.
When his school announced its STEM designation in October 2019, Tepper Dean Robert Dammon hailed it as a way to keep those international students interested. “The STEM designation is obviously going to be attractive to international students,” Dammon told P&Q. “Our current international students have asked us why this school isn’t STEM-designated, given the approach we take. I suspect this will be a strong positive for international students looking to get an MBA in the U.S. We are hopeful that we become a school that international students want to come to.”
Future Tepper grads will have a STEM degree, but for a dozen from the Class of 2019, there is only uncertainty and limbo as they face the end of their eligibility to work in the U.S. and “struggle to maintain our livelihoods,” as one tells P&Q. The coronavirus pandemic has only made things harder.
“The last three years have been extremely stressful due to the visa constraints, but the COVID-19 situation has worsened it,” another Tepper 2019 MBA says. “The only hope now is the STEM certification. If CMU does not extend it, I am not sure if I will be able to find a new job in my home country or even return back since the country is in complete lockdown. I will be stuck in a limbo.”
Adds another: “I face uncertainty and confusion about the future. You can probably relate to this shared feeling during a crisis like this. After finding out that many other colleges have implemented the retroactive STEM degree, I hope that my college could support it. In the times of unexpected crisis, I believe that the actions that colleges take speaks to their commitment to their students and their flexibility to change.”
IN THEIR WORDS
Poets&Quants spoke with two Tepper MBAs and received testimonials from seven others. One Class of 2019 MBA writes that limited work authorization isn’t just a problem for internationals after graduation — it has haunted them throughout their MBA journey.
“When I joined CMU Tepper in 2017, I was looking forward to a bright future full of promise,” the MBA writes. “Only a few months into school, life started going downhill. I was shocked to see I was not qualified to apply to 90% of the internship postings on our internal career portal because I was an international student with limited work authorization. I later discovered that only 25% of companies in the technology and consulting industries alone were open to recruiting international MBA talent in the country, and this list was also shrinking.
“While we were working hard to recruit and persisting in the face of these challenges, we saw an opportunity in STEM because our curriculum was extremely quantitative and technical in nature. We started conversations with our school requesting a STEM designation in early 2018 and were not taken seriously then because the idea was new. We appealed with a stronger case when we saw Rochester Simon converted their MBA program to STEM in late 2018. Our school heard us this time and took steps to convert the program to STEM, which happened finally in October 2019, but left us out of the narrative because we graduated in May 2019 and our university has a blanket policy against retroactive program code update. They were not aware of the possibility of a retroactive application. Over the past six months (November 2019 onward) we reached out to multiple decision makers at our school with factual research on how this change was made possible at 14 other schools. We further connected our school’s administration with other schools’ administrative personnel to help them interpret the law better. Since our petition went public, we received tremendous support from our classmates, alumni, current and incoming students, and a few administrative personnel who deduced it was the right thing to do.
“I hope that, as a school that champions change and innovation, CMU will update their legacy policy to allow us our rightful designation. We have been through a lot these past three years. Please help us catch a break.”
One Tepper colleague who managed to get a visa through the H-1B lottery says a lot of bright international students are deprived of an opportunity to make a difference “and carry the Tepper flag,” only because of their visa status. Tepper must act, the MBA says.
“I have been lucky enough to go through the lottery but many of my fellow international students who have made it to the best firms are suffering because of the volatility,” the MBA writes. “It is important that Tepper supports its international community to continue to attract talent across the world and build a pipeline of diverse talent for the big firms it partners with. As international students, we bring a unique perspective that is downplayed by our visa situation. Many other schools have understood the importance of its international community and opened the STEM opportunities to the class of 2019. I urge Tepper to create a fair opportunity for the Class of 2019.”
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