Now that the threat to the Optional Practical Training program is over — at least for the time being — business schools in the United States can breathe easier knowing their investment in designating all or part of their MBAs as Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics programs wasn’t for naught. Meanwhile, programs that haven’t “gone STEM” — a move widely seen as appealing to international applicants, who comprise huge portions of those programs — can study the move as a strategy for shoring up interest from abroad.
There are far fewer of the latter programs than there were this time last year. On Tuesday (July 7), those ranks shrank yet again as another major U.S. program announced it had taken the plunge, joining all the rest of its peers in the top 25 (and many of those beyond). And this newcomer didn’t go in by half: Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business, ranked No. 25 by both Poets&Quants and U.S. News, has designated all its master’s programs as STEM, including its full-time MBA and Master of Accounting.
The STEM designation, according to Rice Jones’ announcement, “is a direct response to the data-driven business environment, employer needs, and student interest. Our Rice MBA graduates are known in the marketplace for broad problem-solving skills, reflecting a curriculum grounded in quantitative and data-analytic methodologies across the disciplines. This is now reflected in the STEM designation.”
ALL OF THE TOP 25 U.S. B-SCHOOLS NOW HAVE STEM PATHWAYS
U.S. President Donald Trump issued a long-awaited executive order June 22 that was, for business schools, simultaneously not as bad as expected and deeply disappointing. While the order left alone the federal Optional Practical Training program through which international students are granted between one and three years’ stay to work in the U.S., it suspended, for the next six months, an array of visa programs including H-1B, which is the goal of many graduate school alumni in OPT. More than 220,000 places are available in OPT annually to eligible non-citizens; only about 85,000 H-1B visas are granted, via lottery.
The preservation of OPT was a major win for business schools that have invested in STEM. Over the last three years, and especially since 2019, dozens of leading B-schools have sought STEM designation, as MBAs and others who graduate from STEM programs qualify for extended U.S. work stays through OPT. Most recently, UCLA Anderson School of Management designated three of its MBA programs as STEM, making the designation retroactive to Class of 2019 MBAs. Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Chicago Booth, MIT Sloan, Northwestern Kellogg — all have gone STEM, to one degree or another, in the last year. Rice Jones’ move means there are now no schools in the top 25 without some form of STEM pathway within their MBA program.
Threats to the international MBA student pipeline have not, however, evaporated entirely; as recently as this week, the Trump administration’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency announced a modification to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (which oversees OPT) that may mean foreign students on F-1 visas cannot stay in the U.S. unless they take some in-person classes. Importantly, in its announcement Rice Jones noted that all current and incoming international students who are on an F-1 visa will be eligible to apply for the OPT extension under the new STEM designation.
DESIGNATION ‘RECOGNIZES THE QUANTITATIVE ORIENTATION OF OUR PROGRAMS’
Rice Jones’ STEM designation of its full-time MBA “is not a product of a curriculum change,” the school’s announcement reads. “It is instead the result of our historic focus on the intellectual frameworks and quantitative methodologies from economics, psychology and statistics, and our purposeful evolution of the curriculum with the addition of courses focused on quantitative modeling, data analysis skills and programming tools.
“In the case of the MAcc program, the designation is a consequence of the recent curriculum review where more data-analytics courses were added. Those courses have been designed and will be offered starting this fall.
“This designation not only recognizes the quantitative orientation of our programs, but also provides F-1 visa students the opportunity to apply for the STEM OPT extension. The extension allows international graduates, who may now hold U.S. jobs for only 12 months after graduation, to remain in the U.S. for an additional 24 months and receive training through work experience.”