‘EMAILS FILLED WITH HOLLOW, CORPORATE PR LANGUAGE’
Wharton announced in April that, for the first time in years, it would not hike tuition this year. In that way the school avoided the ire that has been leveled against other top B-schools, such as the Stern School of Business at NYU, where students are currently protesting a planned tuition increase. Wharton also reduced the price of its Pre-Term, which is entirely online due to Covid, and which gets underway August 15.
But for some MBA admits, that raises the question: If the school can reduce the cost of Pre-Term because it will be conducted remotely, why can’t they reduce tuition? Even with no tuition hike this year, Wharton has the highest tuition of any business school in the world, at more than $80,000 per year.
“Our Pre-Term was going to be online due to COVID, and they actually reduced the price,” one admit tells P&Q. “I think normally it’s a couple of thousand dollars and it’s only $800 this year. A lot of people saw that as a precedent for a potential tuition reimbursement if the whole fall were to go virtual, but now they’re claiming that that’s just for Pre-Term.”
Adds a second-year MBA student who believes, with many others, that the school should discount tuition due to the shift to online learning: “It’s incredibly unrealistic to say the MBA experience isn’t massively diminished by what we are going through. For the school to not recognize that and pretend as though that is not the case feels pretty disingenuous. The school is reacting more like a business than a mission-driven academic institution. The flat-footedness, lack of desire to take care of students and the lack of empathy is what is really rubbing people the wrong way.
“If they cared about the students, they would say, ‘we totally hear you. We’ll give you a fifth semester or we’ll give you a semester of relief or make it really easy to give you a leave of absence.’ Instead, we’ve gotten nothing more than emails filled with hollow, corporate PR language.”
A TUITION RELIEF PETITION SIGNED BY 539 MBA STUDENTS IN THE CLASS OF 2021
A petition signed by 539 members of the MBA Class of 2021 was delivered to the administration on July 30 but, according to one student, has yet to receive a response. It formally calls for tuition and fees relief for the upcoming semester, “commensurate with the diminished value of our MBA experience,” as well as subsidized continuing education opportunities post-graduation, including an optional fifth semester on campus.
The petition, says another admit, is as much a signal of student frustration and discontent. “I think it’s more of this feeling that we want Penn to know that they can’t do stuff like this to students without people speaking up about it or without there being negative media attention — because if no one says anything when they mislead people, then they may feel comfortable doing it again in the spring, and doing it again next fall,” the student adds.
While the school has stated there will be no tuition reduction, it has established a financial relief fund, from which eligible students may receive stipends.
Blair Mannix, Wharton’s director of MBA admissions, spoke to P&Q in April about the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic. She said the school wanted to bring students to campus but would always act in students’ best interests.
“I’ve been a member of the University of Pennsylvania community for almost 15 years,” Mannix said, “and I know in my soul that Penn would never — and could never — take the easy way out on this. I think Penn will figure out the best possible solution to get the most amount of students on campus for the most amount of time, to deliver the most content and curriculum in-person as humanly possible. That is who the University of Pennsylvania is, and I know right now we have top health experts working on this at the University of Pennsylvania Health System.
“And I do think the entire university ecosystem in the United States — colleges and universities across the United States — are moving toward this. It’s in everybody’s best interest to figure out creative ways to get students on campus. And I do believe we’ll be a leader in that charge.
“But unfortunately where we are right now is, we’re going to have to ask our students to make some decisions with incomplete information and some unknowns on the table. I think a lot of universities are saying this: ‘We want to support you. We want to make sure we can give you enough information to make those decisions with incomplete information.’ We’re trying to make decisions with incomplete information and it’s a tough time for all of us, but that’s what we’re going to ask our students to do.”
‘THE FYRE FESTIVAL OF BUSINESS SCHOOLS’
One of the Wharton admits who spoke to P&Q decided to accept another offer to join an elite MBA program, a decision she says was made easier by Wharton’s handling of coronavirus.
“I was honestly really shocked by the news about going fully online,” she says. “I think it definitely did influence my decision. I mean, I was leaning toward the other school, to be honest, just because for my interests the other school fits a little bit more. But I think seeing how they handled it, that definitely did push me over the edge, made me feel a lot more comfortable in my decision. It was just really shocking with how transparent they seemed, at least in the beginning — the community has been great. Blair, who’s the dean of admissions, has been so communicative. She’s been awesome. She’ll respond to messages immediately, she will do a Q&A every single week. She’s been phenomenal.
“But I guess after it transitioned out of the admissions team and more to the actual full-time program faculty, and then this happened with no Q&A after, and dead silence from any faculty in the forums for the next two-plus hours, that’s scary. People were posting like, ‘Hey, I just landed in Philly, just got off of my 14-hour flight from, like, Sweden, to this news. Oh shit, like I just moved my life across the world and this happened?’ It’s crazy.”
Another admit, who will enroll at Wharton this fall despite misgivings — saying he has no choice after quitting his job and packing his belongings for a relocation to Philadelphia — hopes that Wharton will commit to more transparency going forward.
“I don’t expect for them to go back on their plans for this fall, but the question is, are they going to be more transparent when they plan for the spring?” he says. “Are they going to be more receptive to students? Are they going to include students in the conversation? And up until now, they really haven’t been transparent or communicated with anyone at all.
“To my knowledge, it is one of the only schools that’s really, really misled people. I think other schools were more upfront about what they were doing and didn’t wait till the last minute. I think other schools also had more liberal deferral policies and just less uncertainty overall. Maybe part of the issue is that Penn was too optimistic, but that in itself misled a lot of people.
“People in our class call it the Fyre Festival of business schools,” the admit adds, referencing the disastrous 2017 luxury music festival. “There’s a meme going around that that compares Wharton to Fyre Fest — so that’s kind of the mindset of a lot of students.”