Happy campers, they aren’t.
In July, even before the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School reversed a decision to open the fall semester with a hybrid format of in-person and online classes to go mostly online, MBA students in the Class of 2021 surveyed each other to take the temperature of their classmates. The result: Not all that favorable.
All told, 572 of Wharton’s Class of 2021 students responded to the survey. Of course, the pandemic has upended MBA programs everywhere in the world. While most programs have gone hybrid, with a varying mix of in-person and online instruction, Wharton is the only M7 MBA program that has so far taken a blended approach off the table.
THE SURVEY RESULTS LIKELY CAPTURE MBA SENTIMENT EVERYWHERE AS THE FALL APPROACHES
That decision was officially announced on July 31, the day before this survey was sent to the administration with a petition of tuition relief. At the time the survey was in the field, second-year MBAs at Wharton believed that only 13% of their classes would be in-person. Now, most believe they will have no in-person sessions at all this fall, even though Wharton officials say the MBA program will be “mostly online.”
Even before the change, 78% of the responding students said they not excited about the upcoming semester, and 94% of students felt the value of their overall MBA experience has diminished by at least 40%. Asked to rate their expectations for the fall semester on a scale of 1 (would rather defer) to 10 (very excited), 78% of the students rated it 5 or below. Many students indicated they would defer if they had the financial flexibility to do so. International students also stated they would defer if it didn’t impact their student visa status.
In a way, the results of the survey likely capture the sentiments of MBA students in pricey, highly selective programs all over the world. Obviously, schools are mostly weighing the safety and health of their students, faculty and staff in making these difficult decisions. Nonetheless, for MBA students, the changes have caused widespread frustration and anxiety, as the survey results clearly show.
‘WE APPLAUD THE ADMINISTRATION’S INTENTIONS TO ENSURE A SAFE OPERATING ENVIRONMENT’
The responses, while heavily critical, were submitted to the school with a respectfully-written petition signed at the time by 539 members of the Class of 2021, just under 70% of the second-year MBAs. They formally request tuition relief and subsidized continuing education opportunities post-graduation, including the possibility of an optional fifth semester in-person.
“To begin, we would like to recognize the extremely difficult position that both the University of Pennsylvania and the Wharton School are in, and applaud the administration’s intentions to ensure a safe operating environment for all members of the community,” according to the petition. “While recognizing that this is a complex issue, we believe that the steps taken to date are not reflective of the lived experiences of the student body and the diminished value of our education, and do not incorporate feedback from our class. Additionally, the present situation also disproportionately impacts students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, students of color, immigrants and international students. The MBA Class of 2021 is frustrated and disappointed with the Wharton Administration. In order to maintain the strength of our community for years to come, we need Wharton to think and act differently.”
The students urged a more collaborative approach to resolve its frustrations with the administration. “We are hopeful that Penn and Wharton realize their responsibility to their students and are willing to work together to offset our losses. The global pandemic presents a challenging operating environment for everyone, but it also provides us with an unparalleled opportunity for inspiring leadership and setting new standards of excellence. We came here as part of a broader journey to grow into future leaders who operate with integrity even and especially under the most challenging circumstances – putting ethics ahead of profit and foregoing short-term gains for long-term growth. Now is an ideal time for Wharton to lead in practice and set an example for others.
“The MBA Class of 2021 joined Wharton with great expectations; however, the experience is rapidly transforming into one of trapped disappointment. We stand willing and ready to engage thoughtfully and proactively. We will continue to advocate for the best interests of our community that we care so deeply about.”
EIGHT POWERPOINT SLIDES THAT TELL A STORY OF FRUSTRATION & DISAPPOINTMENT
Here are the full results, in eight Powerpoint slides, obtained by Poets&Quants: