Before coronavirus, application numbers were dropping at most of the top two-year MBA programs in the United States. But not in southeastern Texas.
Even as most of the rest of the U.S. top 25 full-time B-schools were shedding MBA app volume in the 2018-2019 cycle (and at every school, going back three years), the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University in Houston was bucking the national trend, reporting not only increased applications but a falling acceptance rate, too. How would the Covid-19 pandemic affect Jones’s trajectory? The school has released its Class of 2022 profile and the verdict is in: Rice Jones is officially still a hot school.
After extending its round-three deadline by 60 days for international applicants and 75 days for domestic, the Jones School is reporting a 63% jump in total applications, drawing nearly 400 more apps for a total of 1,021 after reporting 625 in 2018-2019. As a result, Rice Jones has enrolled its biggest MBA class in at least 20 years, with 174 students, up 63% from just 107 last year.
“We were happy to see how many people were interested and who really looked like very strong candidates,” Peter Rodriguez, Rice Jones’s dean, tells Poets&Quants. “We had a lot of people who were really earnest about asking for any extra time so that they could complete their applications as they tried to get tested or tried to get recommendations. We were really thrilled with the opportunity to grow our full-time program from a target of 120 per unit to a target of 180, and we grew it back to just short of that, and we’re really happy about that.”
FEWER WOMEN IN THE JONES MBA: ‘NOT THE TREND WE WANT TO SEE’
Rice Jones’s acceptance rate, meanwhile, continued its drive downward, dropping to 35.7% from 37% last year and 39% in 2018 — an 8.5% drop in two cycles — while yield climbed slightly to 47.7% from 46%. That includes another positive marker: the school upped its percentage of underrepresented minorities to over 20%.
But it was not all rosy in the Class of 2022 profile. Rice Jones saw women in its MBA drop to 34% from 38%, and though its larger class size means there are actually more women in the program, the decline in rate is especially disappointing after the school had climbed 7 percentage points in 2019, from 31% the year before.
“I don’t have a great answer for that,” Rodriguez says. “We have more than we’ve had in the past, and our median for the last six years or six intakes is 34%, and that’s where we are. I think the disappointing number is that we believe we need to be north of 40%, and to be higher than that just to meet and be interesting for the people available in the market, for the women available in the market. But we’ve struggled there. I think this is about our normal performance, but it’s not the trend we want to see.”
International student numbers also dropped precipitously, from 26.1% of last year’s class to just 14.9% this fall — the lowest percentage of foreign students for Rice Jones in many cycles. In 2017, the school had 30.3% internationals, making its decline greater than 100% in three short years.
Coronavirus, of course, is partly to blame, along with visa issues, Rodriguez says. The school granted 38 deferrals this year, about half of which went to foreign students.
“Of course we have a larger class, but frankly, we didn’t know what to expect,” he says. “Expectations around that were some of the most difficult things to manage over the summer, just trying to get students good guidance. I think a lot of them had to get clued that they couldn’t do it, or take a deferral — which we offered them — and it’s just unfortunate.
“We had a group that made it and some of them I didn’t think would. India turned out to be a little quicker to resolve some of the bottlenecks than we thought they would — I should say India and the United States worked together. But 15% is awfully low for us. Yeah, we’re usually in the 30s, or maybe high 20s.”
DROP IN INTERNATIONALS ALSO HURTS GMAT AVERAGE
The biggest alarm for Rice Jones was for a key academic measure, directly affected by the drop in international students. While the school’s average undergraduate GPA stayed stable and its percentage of Graduate Record Exam submitters grew once again (to 32.2% from 31%), the school’s average Graduate Management Admission Test score cratered, falling 21 points to 689. That’s not where Rodriguez, or anyone at Rice Jones, wants it to be.
“We had both a drop in the proportion of students who came in with a test at all, which was significant, and adding another third to the cohort,” Rodriguez says. “We grew by 50%, many of whom joined in the third round or later. Almost none of them had a test. So we were harmed by that.
“International students have tended to have a GMAT higher than our average before as well, and so in part it’s driven by both things. We were at this number, this mean GMAT, in the Class of 2018, which was our highest to date until ’19, ’20, ’21. But what we did is, we tried to make the tradeoff. So our GPA we’ve been a little more focused on. I think we’ve had a little bit of a tradeoff between the GMAT and GPA the prior two years. We’d like to see ourselves being at over 3.40 and above 700.”
LOOKING PAST THE NUMBERS TO FORM THE YEAR’S CLASS
Any way you look at it, Peter Rodriguez says, the Class of 2022 was bound to be an unusual one.
But that doesn’t mean it won’t be a great one.
“This class will always have an asterisk on it because the conditions under which we needed to gather tests, interview people, manage visas were so complicated — as well as the questions they had of, ‘Can I even come to the campus? What will it be like?'” he says. “We had to say, ‘Here is our best guess, but we’re not really sure. It’s a process and health conditions will determine.’ So we did that and I think we learned a lot from it. We were more vigilant about really cautiously looking through transcripts to try to discover things that may be a standardized test would’ve been our first best indicator of. But in that sense, we spent a little more time scrutinizing things because we didn’t have all the same measures.”
One thing that will stay the same in the coming years: The Rice Jones MBA will be a larger program. No more 100-to-110-person cohorts, Rodriguez says.
“We looked at the capacity for our school,” he says, “and I think the demands of our state and our region are really high, and we probably have plenty of room to grow. But with the argument to stay at this level, we’re going to stay at this level with the same scholarshipping levels we’ve had before. We’re committed to it.
“It was my ambition from getting here to find the right opportunity to grow. I think for us, there are a lot of benefits to a bigger network and a greater density of job seekers for employers here. So I’m happy about that.”