Fall 2020 Reopening Plans At The Top 100 U.S. Business Schools

This story was updated July 31. Because plans are so fluid at business schools in the U.S., we have included links on the following pages to each school’s coronavirus update webpage.

They’ll be following all the rules this fall at the University of Michigan: masks, social distancing, smaller class sizes, frequent hand and surface washing, and more — much more. They’ll also be pioneering new rules for a new reality, particularly in the realm of remote instruction, as befits one of the country’s leading centers of social and cultural innovation. Put it all together and Scott DeRue, dean of the Ross School of Business, expects a memorable term.

“As with every year, I’m looking forward to welcoming students back to campus safely for a very successful fall term,” DeRue says. “Of course, I also recognize the profound difficulties that many of our students face in this moment, and that much uncertainty remains for all of us. We will get through this, and we will do it together.”

Five months after it shut down business school campuses and curtailed spring instruction and graduation ceremonies, coronavirus is still raging across the United States. In fact, it’s worse than ever, with new case counts rising nationally by the day and regions that had been spared suddenly finding themselves grappling with the grim toll of the deadly pandemic. Schools that had planned to open for business in the fall are reassessing. Some are moving up their start dates to the second week in August, with the goal to be finished with classes by Thanksgiving. Virtual learning will be common this winter; many schools that plan in-person classes have slated their finals exams to be held remotely. MBA applications are up amid a perceived improvement in applicants’ odds to earn a seat in otherwise highly selective programs — but deferrals and deferral requests are up, too, fueled in part by dismay at most schools’ unwillingness to reduce costs.

In a Poets&Quants analysis of 100 of the leading U.S. B-schools, the most common plan for the fall of 2020 is a hybrid of in-person and virtual instruction. And while a few schools have committed to teaching MBA and other students fully online, many more are forging ahead with plans to bring everyone back to the classroom, albeit with a plethora of precautions. All of the top 25 schools, including the University of Michigan Ross School, were planning to use a hybrid approach as of late July until two — the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and Georgetown University McDonough School of Business — announced recently that a national resurgence of the virus has forced them to start the fall fully online.

At Michigan, the Ross School “is committed to offering an innovative, enriching, and public health-informed experience this fall,” Scott DeRue told Poets&Quants by email in early July. “We are offering students the ability to participate in classes either in-person or remotely to meet the needs of our diverse community. In terms of public health and safety on campus, we are taking a number of precautions following the guidance of our public health experts at the University of Michigan. For example, face coverings will be required for all students, faculty, and staff. Every student will be provided with a starter kit including face coverings and hand sanitizer. We will introduce physical distancing measures throughout the campus, meaning there will be fewer people in classrooms, common areas, and offices. We will have expanded testing and contact tracing capabilities. And we will follow enhanced cleaning protocols that include regularly disinfecting high-touch surfaces and high-traffic areas, including classrooms.”


Michigan Ross’ Scott DeRue. Ross photo

In deciding what the fall 2020 semester will look like for MBAs and other students — in-person, online, or a hybrid approach — business schools are mostly following the lead of their universities and colleges. The situation is highly fluid, however, and could change if the pandemic worsens nationally or regionally. Theoretically, things could get better, too, though most B-schools are preparing for scenarios on the pessimistic side of the ledger. Of the 100 B-schools on our list, 31 belong to universities and colleges with accelerated schedules that start in the second week of August and finish in-person instruction before Thanksgiving in late November — Dartmouth, Cornell, and Emory Goizueta are in this camp. Some, like Arizona Eller, American Kogod, SMU Cox, and a handful of others, plan to end classes in late November, then conduct final exams online. A few have announced they will go in-person until Thanksgiving, then remote for the next three weeks or so, then proceed with online exams. (See pages 3 to 6 for the plans of all 100 schools, including links to each school’s Covid-19 web page.)

One thing schools are happy not to have to contemplate: visa revocation for international students — who comprise a substantial chunk of most U.S. MBA programs — who do not attend in-person classes. That threat evaporated last week.

At The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the plan for a hybrid approach dates back to April. With “Remote Plus,” classes with more than 48 students were to be conducted online, and classes with 48 or fewer students offered “in a hybrid format, with students alternating between in-person and virtual attendance and no more than 24 students in-person at any given time.” For classes under 48 students, Wharton faculty was to evaluate each class “on its viability for in-person instruction.” Now all that is out the window after Wharton announced July 31 that it will be nearly fully online for the fall, with only token in-person requirements to help international students avoid visa trouble. At Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, “we are planning to deliver programs in a hybrid format with some virtual-only courses,” Michael Mazzeo, senior associate dean of curriculum and teaching, tells P&Q. “Our 1-Year and MMM programs started classes this week and 100% of their courses in Summer Quarter are being offered in a hybrid format. The classroom is set up not only to meet social distance guidelines but also to fully integrate students who are joining remotely. We have taken a very intentional approach to designing classroom and co-curricular experiences to dissolve barriers between students present in the Hub and those online, and to enable collaboration and community engagement.”

At MIT’s Sloan School of Management, as the school prepares to receive faculty researchers and students in the coming weeks, “We all must accept that campus space will be akin to a precious resource for learning and research throughout the remainder of 2020. … Wearing face coverings, practicing physical distancing, contributing to good hygiene practices, and getting used to operating within defined campus spaces will be our ‘new normal’ for the foreseeable future.” At Columbia Business School, “courses will be offered in multiple formats, almost always with an online option, as we restore face-to-face instruction as soon as possible. We are now equipping our classrooms with new technology that will ensure a rich learning experience for students, whether they participate in person or virtually.” The most prominent school to chart its own course separate from its university: Harvard Business School, which so far has declined to commit to a fully online fall.

Compiling charts and tables based on data from The Chronicle of Higher Education back in April and May, search marketing agency Manaferra found that 50% of MBA programs at the top 100 U.S. B-schools were preparing a hybrid approach for the fall, while 40% planned for their students to return and take in-campus classes, 5% planned to offer only online classes, and 5% were considering a range of options. As coronavirus worsened nationally in recent weeks, schools — canaries in the country’s coal mine — began shifting toward remote learning. As of late July, 58% planned to go hybrid, including 27% private schools and 31% public, while 35% continued to plan for in-person instruction (10% private, 25% public), only three were slated to be online-only, and five were still considering a range of options. Schools in the South and Mountain West, which comprise 46% of those on P&Q‘s list, were split nearly evenly between in-person (23%) and hybrid (21%). This latter finding complemented a new study from BeenVerified, a New York-based data analysis firm that recently analyzed about 1,200 universities and colleges and found that states most likely to be on-campus were in the South and Midwest; states with the highest percentage of universities scheduled to meet in person included Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas; and states more likely to have online-only education in the fall were California, Delaware, Alaska, New Mexico, and Hawaii.

According to BeenVerified, public universities were more likely to keep their distance: As of July 15, only 15% of public universities were planning online-only classes this fall, compared to 3% of private colleges, but as many as 35% of public institutions were planning for a hybrid system of on-campus and distance learning (compared to 24% of private colleges).


One of the country’s most prominent public schools planning a hybrid approach in the fall is Michigan’s Ross School, which Dean DeRue says has had — and continues to have — significant input in the university’s return-to-campus planning. He personally has served on multiple committees and task forces related to reopening, along with other members of the Ross School community, including faculty, staff, and students. DeRue cites a pair of town halls with current and incoming students this summer that was “instrumental in helping us build out our plans for the fall.” It’s a “true team effort,” he says.

Central to the school’s approach: All classes will offer an option for students to join remotely, and most courses will be offered in a hybrid format, where some students are in person and other students are joining remotely. “We are a diverse community of students, and we are designing learning experiences to meet those diverse needs,” DeRue tells P&Q.

“Because of our collaborative approach to planning, I am extraordinarily confident that we will deliver high-impact curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular experiences for our students this fall,” DeRue says. “We will have students in Ann Arbor, and we will have students joining remotely across the globe. The one common theme is that we will offer our students — no matter where they are in the world — experiences that enable them to learn and grow professionally, build relationships and make connections, and engage with leading companies in ways that advance their careers.

“No question that the business school experience will be different for all of us. No matter where you live or work, we are all affected by Covid. But the core elements of the Ross experience — the collaborative student culture, the action-based learning, the career opportunities, the commitment to purpose and impact, and the exceptional faculty — these core elements all remain central to who we are and the student experience at Ross.

“I do not worry very much because I know how strong and resilient we are as a community. That said, there are a number of unknowns that make forecasting the future very challenging. For example, we do not know how the trajectory of Covid-19 will unfold over the coming weeks and months, and what that might mean for how we live, how we work, how we educate, and how we connect with each other. We do not know how the global economy will respond. We do not know what will happen in our social-political environment this fall, and what impact that will have on our community. But despite all of these unknowns, the one recurring truth is that we will go through the ups and downs together, and be stronger on the other side for it.”

DeRue’s “dream scenario”? That his school continues its collaborative approach to coping with Covid-19, and that when classes begin August 31 “we deliver on our academic mission and support our students as they aspire to become their best self; and we all look back on the coming year proud of how we stepped up, helped each other, and demonstrated our leadership in action. Since this crisis began, I have been truly inspired by the creativity and resilience of our Ross community and the unwavering commitment to our mission during this challenging time. And I’m excited for our students to join us this fall — in person or remotely — as we navigate these uncharted waters, learn and grow, and make a positive difference together.”

See pages 3, 4, 5, and 6 for a complete alphabetical list of the top 100 U.S. business schools’ plans for fall 2020, including links to each school’s coronavirus update page.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.