This School Just Made Its MBA A STEM Program — & Made It Retroactive To 2018

The full-time MBA at the Merage School of Business at UC-Irvine is a STEM program now, retroactive to summer 2018. Merage photo

Another top-50 business school in the United States has made its MBA a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) program — and made the designation retroactive to include alumni from past classes.

The Merage School of Business at the University of California-Irvine’s move to STEM in March, and move to retroactivity this month, are important for a number of reasons. The designation itself means 2020 MBA graduates and those of future classes leave the No. 38-ranked Merage with STEM degrees, which are helpful for domestic students but can be crucial for international grads seeking longer work stays in the U.S.; the retroactive move, made in response to student and alumni pressure, means grads from as far back as summer 2018 get that STEM stamp, too.

Perhaps more importantly, Merage’s moves signal to other schools that STEM has appeal at small schools and large alike, and that retroactivity — which some much higher-ranked schools are grappling with or not willing to embrace — is a matter of how best to serve students and alumni.

But it might all be for naught. The Trump administration is expected to decide later this week to suspend or altogether halt the program that gives STEM grads a path to three years’ work experience in the U.S.


UC-Irvine Merage is one of the smallest top-50 schools, with only 49 enrollees in its 2019 full-time MBA. It slipped one spot, from 37th, in the most recent P&Q aggregate ranking; but it was one of the biggest decliners in the U.S. News ranking released in March, falling to 67th from 43rd the year before. Why?

Largely because of lower employment rates. As P&Q wrote in March: “Merage MBAs employed at graduation fell to 52.1% last year from 57.4% a year earlier, but the job rate for MBA grads with jobs three months after commencement really tanked to 70.8% from 85.2% a year earlier, a difference of nearly 15 percentage points.” (See table below.) Irvine also earned a lower score on U.S. News‘ recruiter survey, falling to 2.7 from 2.8 on a five-point scale, and saw its acceptance rate climb to 31.8% from 27.3%.

The rankings drop “doesn’t represent the reality that 90% of our students accepted positions with many of today’s leading global organizations, just not within the 90-day period,” Eric Spangenberg, dean of the Merage School, told P&Q. “Finding employment that resonates personally is critical for today’s talent, so we must also take a long-term view of student success, which is the ultimate value of attaining an MBA.”

There were good signs for Merage, too: Average class GMATs actually inched up three points to 670, along with average starting salaries and sign-on bonuses which came to $108,548 last year, up slightly from $107,905 in 2018.


Merage’s move to STEM, which included the introduction of a new Analytics in Digital Leadership concentration, may look like a response to slipping metrics. But it had been in the works for some time, says Joanna Ho, associate dean of master’s programs.

“Merage adopted the Leadership for a Digitally Driven World strategy in 2016 and also revamped our curricula by adding more skills concerning science, technology, engineering, and math to our course content across all the master’s programs,” Ho wrote in a May 13 email to students and alumni. “This year, we added a STEM concentration on Analytics in Digital Leadership to our full-time MBA program, and based on the revamped curricula, we have also updated the CIP (STEM) codes for both the FTMBA and the Master of Professional Accountancy in March 2020.”

Merage’s move to STEM qualifies graduates for up to 36 months of work in the U.S. without needing an H-1B visa. In response to urging by alumni and students, the school made the STEM designation retroactive in May — a move that will hearten students and alumni at other schools that are petitioning their alma maters to do the same.

“We are delighted to inform you that students who graduated from the FTMBA program and the MPAc program in or after Summer 2018 will now have the updated STEM CIP Codes,” Ho wrote. “With a STEM degree, you will receive three years of OPT (1 year regular OPT + 2 years of OPT STEM extension). We hope this benefit will help you to get more chances to apply for the H1-B visa as well as to gain more practical experience in the U.S.”

Learn more about the UCI Merage STEM MBA here. Learn more about the school’s new Analytics in Digital Leadership concentration here.


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