In the time of coronavirus, as Zoom classes fight for attention with the comforts (and distractions) of home, student engagement is among business schools’ greatest challenges. This is where part-time MBA programs have something to teach their full-time cousins. Because even as full-time MBA programs contend with the vagaries of the new normal with varying degrees of success, part-time programs, with more built-in flexibility, are seeing fewer problems and more opportunities for innovation and new types of learning, according to school officials at some of the top programs who spoke with Poets&Quants recently.
Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management Evening & Weekend MBA, ranked No. 3 in the country by U.S. News this year, may, in many ways, be a model for all. The program’s pivot to virtual learning this spring was a complete success, and its preparedness for Summer Quarter is complete, says Emily Haydon, Kellogg’s senior director of admissions for both the Executive and Evening & Weekend MBA programs. The secret? Constant solicitation of student and faculty input.
In short, Kellogg listens.
“We are constantly using input from our students and faculty refine our virtual delivery,” Haydon tells Poets&Quants.
What have they heard? Lately, the biggest rumblings have been about testing. Even with new at-home versions available, entrance exams like the Graduate Management Admission Test, and the Graduate Record Exam are especially onerous for applicants struggling with work, their home lives in upheaval and everything touched by the chaos of coronavirus. So Kellogg’s E&W program waived all testing requirements in April and announced May 15 that the test waiver would be extended to June 10.
“One month ago, we announced that we would be waiving the GRE/GMAT/TOEFL/IELTS testing requirement for those applying for a Summer Quarter start in the Evening & Weekend MBA Program,” Haydon says. “Due to prolonged test center closures and challenges with online testing options, Kellogg will extend the GMAT/GRE test waiver to applicants applying to the June 10 Fall Quarter application deadline.” She adds that the E&W program will remain virtual for Summer Quarter. “We plan to return to our in-person delivery model as soon as it is safe for our students, faculty, and staff to do so.”
KELLOGG AMONG A FEW SCHOOLS BUCKING THE DOWNWARD TREND OF PART-TIME PROGRAMS
Part-time MBA programs serve a different market. They are geared toward those who work full-time but aren’t yet experienced enough to be in leadership — generally 24 to 35 years old. Because there are usually fewer scholarships for part-timers, these students must be able to use their own money, or secure enough in loans, to pay tuition. Part-time programs are generally seen as less competitive, with lower average test scores, and more reliant on location to draw interest. Schools in or near big cities — like Chicago, for instance — tend to have thriving part-time programs, because they allow students to work and study in close proximity.
Long known as the “workhorses” of graduate business education, part-time programs have seen enrollment stagnate in recent years, according to data from the Graduate Management Admission Council. In a 2018 study, GMAC pointed to trouble signs: Since a huge drop-off in application volume after 2008, the programs have been on a gradual but consistent decline, and permanently sub-50% in volume growth. In GMAC’s 2016 Application Trends Survey, 43% of part-time MBA programs reported volume growth, compared with 50% that reported declining volume. Nearly half (49%) of all part-time MBA programs surveyed reported plans to reduce the size of their next class. Last year, in its 2018 Application Trends Survey — which mostly had to do with full-time programs — GMAC reported that a majority of responding schools saw total application declines among part-time lockstep MBA (53% report declines), part-time self-paced MBA (54%), and flexible MBA (56%) programs. Segmenting part-time lockstep and self-paced programs by their scheduling options showed similar results, as most weekend (56%) and evening (55%) programs were also down.
The attrition has occurred at even the top part-time programs: Between 2016 and 2020, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, currently the No. 1-ranked program by U.S. News, shrank from 1,366 students to 1,245, an 8.9% decline. UCLA Anderson School of Management, ranked No. 5, saw a more significant loss, from 986 students to 857 (13.1%). No. 4 NYU Stern School of Business saw enrollment decrease by a whopping 242 students, 1,381 to 1,139, equaling 17.5%. No. 6 University of Michigan Ross School of Business went from 430 to 406 (-5.6%), and No. 9 Indiana University Kelley School of Business fell from 294 to 278 (-5.4%). The biggest drop-off for a prominent school was at No. 8 Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business, which dropped from 143 to 74, a decline of nearly half (48.3%).
TOWN HALLS, CLUBS, EVENTS — EVEN FITNESS CLASSES
Enrollment at No. 3 Northwestern Kellogg, however, has declined only slightly, from 804 to 795 (1.1%). Why? Emily Haydon says engagement and innovation are, as always, prime factors. But there’s more. As part-time programs have struggled to remain viable in a sea of new options — online MBAs, specialized master’s offerings, MOOCs — Kellogg’s E&W program has grown its offerings, improved engagement with employers, and invested in better marketing of the advantages of the format. It’s also super flexible, with students having the option to learn more on weekends, more in the evenings, or some combination of the two.
The results speak for themselves.
“Over the past several years, we’ve consistently grown our enrollment numbers,” Haydon says. “We’ve expanded our innovative offerings and launched an Accelerated Option to allow E&W students to complete an MBA in as quickly as one year, and made it possible for all students to enroll at any quarter throughout the year.”
E&W students have been very engaged over Zoom, Haydon says. “They’ve interacted with faculty, staff, and their peers through virtual programming like town halls, club events, and social gatherings. For example, this weekend (May 23-24) the Kellogg Artificial Intelligence Club is hosting a virtual fireside chat with the director of strategy and analytics at Nike, who happens to be a Northwestern alum. More than 180 people are registered right now. Students are also signed up for a virtual fitness class this weekend, focused on core, endurance, and cardio. And the E&W Marketing Club is hosting a virtual trivia happy hour. That is just a sampling of the virtual events taking place this Friday and Saturday alone.” During the Covid-19 lockdown, Kellogg keeps students engaged with the school community via a biweekly video series called Feel Good Friday.
Additionally, the E&W Real Estate Club set up a Zoom Happy Hour Speaker Series to help keep students engaged, MBA candidate Will Mak says. “We featured Kellogg alumni who provided insights on how Covid was impacting their day-to-day jobs and what advice they had for students looking to enter the job market in real estate,” Mak says. More than 400 registered for 11 events between mid-April and mid-May.
P&Q talked with Emily Haydon by email about the new era for the Kellogg E&W program and what it might forecast for all of graduate management education. The interview begins below.
P&Q: What is one insider tip you can provide prospective applicants about applying to this program?
Emily Haydon: Prospective applicants can join an upcoming virtual event to learn more about the program, or take a look at my blog post for more tips on what we look for in candidates and how to create a compelling application.
COVID-19 has brought several updates to our E&W application process. For the time being, we will be conducting all interviews virtually. And due to the prolonged test center closures and challenges with online testing options, Kellogg has decided to waive the GMAT/GRE test requirement for applicants to the Summer and Fall Quarters of our E&W program. The rigor of Kellogg’s evaluation process is a big part of what allows us to do this. Our admissions team takes a very comprehensive approach to evaluations. There are so many factors — undergrad experience, letters of recommendation, written essays, interviews — that create the full picture of an individual. And we would never accept a student who does not meet the high admissions standards that we’ve always held.
We’re making these updates in light of unprecedented times, and I’m proud of Kellogg’s responsiveness and innovation.
See the next page for the rest of our Q&A about the Kellogg Evening & Weekend MBA with Emily Haydon, edited for length and clarity.